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The Perils of Our Militarism

Congressmember Brad Sherman's military spending took money away from COVID relief, housing justice, and climate action

Congressional candidate Shervin Aazami
Photo credit: Shervin Aazami

War is always profitable for the oligarchs, and always devastating for the masses. In American politics, there is virtually nothing more bipartisan than financing the military-industrial complex.

While it took Congress an entire two-year term to enact a haphazard and largely performative ban on surprise medical billing — an exploitative private insurance and hospital practice that has bankrupted countless Americans — it took barely a few weeks to cobble together $13.6 billion in military and other aid for Ukraine.

The stranglehold of weapons manufacturers and fossil fuel companies on our lawmakers — Democratic and Republican — has catapulted our country into a maximalist spiral of ever-increasing defense budgets that feed their profit margins.

My opponent, 26-year incumbent Representative Brad Sherman (D), went on MSNBC recently to say Ukraine has no need for humanitarian aid or refugee services — only for Javelin anti-tank missiles and Stinger anti-aircraft missiles. It should be noted that he has taken nearly $250,000 in donations from defense companies over his tenure, including from Raytheon, Northrop Grumman, and Lockheed Martin.

A few days ago, he went on Fox News to boast about how the US is the world’s top oil producer right after lambasting the Saudis and Qataris for not increasing oil and gas production, respectively, and stating on Twitter that Ukrainian blood is on their hands as a result.

Of course, he never mentioned how the Biden administration reimposed inhumane and deadly sanctions on Houthi fighters in Yemen to help entice the Saudis to increase production, despite the outcry of countless human rights organizations.

Does Brad Sherman not think the US has blood on its hands for financing the Saudi and Emirati-led genocide of Yemenis? Likely not, otherwise he would have supported ending US cluster bomb sales to the Saudi government and would not have voted to continue giving the Saudis intelligence to better target airstrikes on Yemeni civilians. When Rep. Ilhan Omar introduced a Joint Resolution in November 2021 to block the Biden administration’s efforts to sell $650 million worth of weapons to the Saudi regime, Sherman did not support it.

It should come as no surprise, then, why we are told by politicians like Rep. Sherman that diplomacy is ineffective and akin to appeasement — because stopping wars from occurring or continuing doesn’t make Boeing or their sycophants in Congress any money, it just saves lives. The power of the war machine undergirds why we have chosen military escalation with Russia as opposed to brokering an international diplomatic ceasefire — which the Biden administration has yet to publicly advocate for.

The consequences for staying in this vicious cycle of endless wars fueled by dirty energy on our economy, our climate, our communities, and our collective future are astronomical. But to understand why, let’s first assess where we are.

Sherman’s Militarism Defunds Local Needs, Like Housing

Budgets are moral documents that reflect government priorities for allocation of resources. In other words, they are choices made deliberately by our elected representatives about what to finance and what to forfeit.

From the United States Congress to Los Angeles City Council, our elected officials opt to invest the lion’s share of our resources in systems of oppression rather than the programs and services that lead to healthy, vibrant communities — like universal healthcare and housing, living wages, strong public education, clean air and water, efficient and free public transit, and so on.

At the federal level, this dynamic is exemplified by an annual budget that puts the majority of funds into the Pentagon. Here in Los Angeles, it’s a city budget that allocates over a third of spending to the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD). Both have similar effects — they subject the working class, Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) to austerity and state-sponsored violence while extracting their labor and depriving them of financial stability and growth.

The reality is that US military spending dwarfs the next eleven nations combined — which include China, Russia, India, the United Kingdom, Saudi Arabia, Germany, France, Japan, South Korea, Italy, and Australia. The Pentagon maintains roughly 750 foreign military bases in 80 countries and territories around the globe — double the number of nations that had US military bases at the end of the Cold War, and roughly three times the number of overseas bases as all other nations combined.

Last week, Congress passed a $1.5 trillion budget to fund the federal government for the remainder of Fiscal Year (FY) 2022. Of that total discretionary spending, a whopping 52% ($782 billion) is reserved for the Pentagon. Comparatively, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) — which oversees public housing agencies, housing assistance and voucher programs like Section 8, and enforcement of housing anti-discrimination laws — received $53.7 billion, equal to less than 4% of our total budget.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) — which oversees compliance with federal air and water quality laws, spearheads toxic and superfund site cleanups, and assists with environmental restoration and protection — received far less than even HUD, $9.56 billion, or less than 1% of our total annual budget. In fact, DoD’s budget is close to 50% higher than annual US spending on housing, education, transportation, public health, and environmental health, combined.

It should come as little surprise, then, why only 1 in 10 people eligible for Section 8 housing in Los Angeles are able to receive vouchers when the federal agency that runs the program is so chronically underfunded.

On top of that, austerity measures like the Faircloth Amendment have barred federal financing for construction of new public housing complexes since Bill Clinton’s last term as president. If that ban were lifted, Congress could help finance our city’s purchase of abandoned buildings, private lots, old motels, and other units for conversion into permanent supportive housing or low-income housing. Congress could eradicate houselessness in America with just 10% of the Pentagon’s annual budget.

With Congress failing to fund environmental protection, our city receives scant federal support to clean up legacy toxic sites like the Exide Technologies battery recycling site in Vernon or the nuclear meltdown at the Santa Susana Field Laboratory in the Valley, or seal the thousands of abandoned oil drilling sites scattered in BIPOC neighborhoods across the city.

The military-industrial complex is responsible for polluting tap water and groundwater sources with toxic fluorinated “forever chemicals” like PFOS and PFOA in at least 36 installations spanning 23 states and territories, with 23 of those installations located here in California. An investigation of PFOS/PFOA pollution by the Environmental Working Group was even more damning, linking contamination to 328 military installations in 2,800 communitiespolluting the drinking water of a whopping 200 million Americans.

Congress has yet to enact legislation that would put any considerable resources towards cleanup of these sites, while Brad Sherman failed to even co-sponsor bills like the PFAS Action Act of 2021 to start this process. These are always policy choices.

Let that sink in. It’s one thing to know that defense spending eclipses domestic spending, it’s another to see precisely how gargantuan the US war machine is. Even more flabbergasting is identifying where Pentagon spending is directed. Many people think defense spending goes primarily towards recruiting and training soldiers and taking care of their families, but that’s a fallacy.

The money is used to purchase high-tech modern weaponry from private contractors, with roughly half of annual Pentagon spending (over $421 billion in FY 2020) funneled into their revenue streams. In fact, since the wars initiated in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, the Pentagon has expended an eye-popping $14 trillion, with up to half of those funds lining the pockets of defense contractors.

Moreover, just five US weapons manufacturers have entrenched their wealth by $2.02 trillion since 9/11 — Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, Northrop Grumman, Boeing, and General Dynamics. In fact, most US foreign troops are defense contractors, not active-duty US military.

Climate Impacts of Sherman’s Military Spending

War hawks like Brad Sherman never think to address how this profligate spending impacts our climate. In fact, he simply accepts it with apathy, as he plainly stated on March 15 during his town hall, that “As long as the military is the biggest institution in the country, it will be the biggest source of emissions.”

The Pentagon has a larger carbon footprint than 140 nations, with DoD consuming roughly 80% of all the fuel utilized by the federal government. Between 2001 and 2018, the US military emitted 1,267 million metric tons of greenhouse gases.

Brad Sherman’s apathy towards the climate impacts of war is indefensible, but not surprising given his total absence on every single piece of legislation introduced to implement the vision of the Green New Deal (GND). Namely, these are the GND for Public Housing, GND for Public Schools, or the GND for Cities, States, and Tribes.

Sherman has also failed to support the Fossil Free Finance Act, which would mandate the big Wall Street banks divest their trillions worth of fossil fuel holdings. Once again, this comes as no surprise, considering how Sherman has taken over $5 million from banks, securities and investment firms, insurance, and real estate companies over his tenure — all while sitting as a senior member of the very committee with jurisdiction over Wall Street.

As enormous as US military spending is, it still fails to account for the devastating human toll of war. Our relentless imperialism, from decades of Afghan and Iraqi occupation to our immoral drone wars in at least 22 countries as far flung as Kenya and Syria, have produced tens of millions of refugees, and killed hundreds of thousands of civilians. The Taliban emerged in Afghanistan because of the turmoil left in the wake of a decade-long proxy war between the United States and the former Soviet Union. The unspeakable torture, violence, and chaos created by the US invasion and occupation of Iraq, and the asinine decision to disband their military in 2003, created the vacuum that allowed a brutal insurgency like ISIS to fester.

Congressional candidate Shervin Aazami holding a sign saying "Stand with Afghans" at a march
Will a U.S. proxy war in Ukraine lead to blowbacks and tragedies similar to those from the proxy war the U.S. launched in Afghanistan in 1980? Photo credit: Shervin Aazami

Yet even after these painful lessons, US politicians still can’t be bothered to consider the long-term ramifications of funneling billions of weapons and aid into militant insurgencies in Ukraine, including neo-Nazi militias. Anything that stifles the profit margins of war profiteers is categorically rejected.

Why I’m Running for Congress Against Sherman

When I consider Rep. Sherman’s dedication to the war machine in the context of the dire socioeconomic issues facing our district that he chooses to give little more than lip service to, it only reaffirms why I am running to unseat him:

  • Our congressional district is at the center of our climate and houselessness crises.
  • Close to a quarter of our city’s unhoused residents live in the San Fernando Valley.
  • The Aliso Canyon gas blowout the worst such blowout in US history, where over 109,000 metric tons of methane were dumped into the air — happened in our district.
  • The Santa Susana Field Laboratory, the site of one of the worst nuclear disasters in US history, is also in our district.
  • Most of our residents are rent-burdened, and up to 80% of residents in certain neighborhoods are living in poverty.

What’s more infuriating is that Rep. Sherman chairs the Investor Protection Subcommittee on Financial Services which has jurisdiction over our federal housing laws — yet all he has done to address our housing shortage since assuming that position is take donations from corporate landlords on Wall Street, like BlackRock and Blackstone.

Not once have I seen Rep. Sherman go on national news to discuss our houselessness crisis, but I have certainly seen him go on national news to extol the virtues of crippling sanctions and foreign military aid.

Nor have I seen Rep. Sherman decry how $15 billion in COVID-19 monies were stripped from the $1.5 trillion omnibus package at the last minute, even as military aid to Ukraine was nearly tripled to almost the same amount in the bill, nearly $14 billion.

This isn’t the representation our district deserves. Our district is solidly progressive and was handily won by Bernie Sanders in the 2020 presidential primary. There is no political downside for Brad to be the progressive advocate we need and expect.

But after more than two decades in office and a multimillion-dollar war chest made up of donations from defense companies, Wall Street banks, private equity firms, payday lenders, and credit card companies, Brad Sherman has made it crystal clear who he is fighting for — and it isn’t the working people or families of the Valley.

As the son of Iranian asylum seekers who fled religious persecution 26 years after our CIA and British MI6 overthrew the only democratically elected leader in Iranian history, the horrors of US imperialism hit very close to home. We need anti-war activists in Congress. We deserve representatives who are ready to advocate for a new foreign policy grounded in diplomacy, human rights, and public health — not militarism and exploitation.

Writer, feminist, and civil rights leader Audre Lorde said, “The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.” For our communities, advocating for justice and liberation for all is not a matter of politics; it’s a matter of life and death. It’s a matter of reckoning with our sordid legacy of state-sponsored oppression and abuse and recognizing that the status quo has inflicted immeasurable suffering on millions at home and abroad.

My hometown deserves a corporate-free, unapologetic advocate for progressive policy. For single-payer Medicare for All, housing as a human right, abolition, climate justice, and a permanent end to the US war machine.

We can enact that change on June 7, 2022.

Knock LA is a media project of Ground Game LA, which endorses Shervin Aazami for Congress in California’s 32nd District, covering the west and south San Fernando Valley. Knock LA publishes op-eds by candidates endorsed by Ground Game LA on public policy issues in their campaign platforms. Knock LA previously covered the incumbent’s record in the 2018 and 2020 elections.

Website: shervin4congress.com

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