Demonstrators with posters calling for no funding for Israel.

Demonstrators calling for no funding for Israel in the conflict in Gaza are seen outside the U.S. Capitol before the House passed the foreign aid package on Saturday, April 20, 2024.

(Photo: Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)

Mayday! Mayday! The Ship of State Is Sinking!

While the Senate and House had no trouble spitting up some $95 billion for war, they couldn’t spare $1 billion to fully fund the Women’s, Infants, and Children food program.

For its own sake, it’s good to celebrate a spring rising to its glorious peak, but the passing of wintry bleakness this year reveals our nation’s twisted priorities and deep distress. Hence the title of this piece.

In response to pleas from the Biden administration, the U.S. Senate approved a $95 billion aid package for Ukraine, Gaza, and Israel on February 13, and late this April, the House followed suit. Of that $95 billion, only $10 billion was set aside for humanitarian aid to Ukraine, Gaza, and Israel combined, at a time when at least one quarter of Gazans were starving and almost all the rest are without shelter, adequate food, clean water, medical care, or sanitation. If you’re reading this column, you are doubtless familiar with the appalling numbers of dead and wounded, especially among women and children, along with some of their personal grief, but it’s essential to add that $60 billion went for weapons to Ukraine, $8 billion for military aid to Taiwan, and another $14 billion went to more than triple the size of the standard weapons gift to Israel. As we mark this start of the growing season, we also note that Ukraine’s black earth is seeded with a half million land mines, courtesy of Russia and the U.S. You can draw your own conclusions about what that means for the eventual harvest and hunger worldwide.

In late March, while the U.S. reluctantly got out of the way of a United Nations Security Council resolution calling for a temporary cease-fire in Gaza, President Joe Biden quietly authorized another package of 2,000-pound bombs for Bibi and accelerated work on a new generation of nuclear weapons. He couldn’t even be honest enough to do it out in the open. Piling further injury upon injury, he later authorized another $18 billion in weapons to Israel, above and beyond the $14 billion he had previously approved—just as Israeli air strikes hit the Iranian embassy in Damascus, which is sovereign Iranian territory, and killed seven aid workers from World Central Kitchen who had been providing humanitarian aid in Gaza. Netanyahu claimed that the strike was unintentional, but a report from the ground by Haaretz, an Israeli newspaper, told of a deliberate, serial attack on three clearly marked World Central Kitchen cars in a convoy.

The profiteering, heedlessness, mendacity, hypocrisy, and casual cruelty involved are astonishing to behold.

Over and over again, Netanyahu has made it plain that he will do whatever he feels like about Gaza in particular and the Palestinians in general, and lash out wherever he likes, but that obvious point fails to penetrate in the White House or State Department. Instead, all we get from the Biden administration for Gaza and world peace are rationalizations and crocodile tears. Bombs away!

Do any of you donate to UNICEF, Oxfam, Human Rights Watch, Doctors Without Borders, or Amnesty International? All five organizations have described the Israeli military campaign in Gaza as genocidal in nature, and in February, Amnesty reported that Israeli soldiers were killing civilians “with impunity.” Thus any U.S. weapons aid to the Netanyahu government makes the U.S. directly complicit in violations of international law and covenants to which the U.S. is a party. It also costs us here at home, both morally and materially.

This column originates in Maine, whose gift to the Senate’s $14 billion weapons package for Israel is $43,000,000. Here’s what that $43 million could have bought instead:

  • 5,104 public housing units for the homeless or insecurely housed;
  • Free or low cost healthcare for 14,941 children;
  • Enough funding to hire 467 elementary school teachers;
  • Solar electricity for 122,264 households; and
  • The cancellation of loan debt for 1,133 students.

Maine’s gift to Biden’s additional $18 billion is $55 million, which means we can now more than double the cost to Maine in unmet human needs as listed above.

In case the implications for state and local government and local small businesses aren’t plain enough, remember that war and preparation for war are the strongest engines worsening climate change. The last 10 months have seen record-breaking global temperatures, which means the prospects for the rest of this year are grim. Our state and local governments are already paying dearly for the resulting damage. Meanwhile, the majority of Maine’s delegation to Congress eagerly promotes militarism as a boost to the state’s prosperity and well-being. Respect for the environment and anything remotely resembling international law and equity—much less common sense and common decency—are barely an afterthought, except in official propaganda.

While the Senate and House had no trouble spitting up some $95 billion for war, they couldn’t spare $1 billion to fully fund the Women’s, Infants, and Children food program. That adds 2 million to the number of people in our country without enough to eat.

As if all that weren’t reckless enough, the Biden administration has proposed a $700 million boost in the appropriation for the National Nuclear Security Administration, that branch of the Energy Department which develops, modernizes, and produces nuclear weapons. The proposal assumes continued operation of the missile triad, with production facilities working until at least 2080. What lies ahead is an indefinitely continued nuclear arms race, complete with ongoing violations of our obligations under Article 6 of the Non-Proliferation Treaty.

The profiteering, heedlessness, mendacity, hypocrisy, and casual cruelty involved are astonishing to behold.

By way of underscoring the point, here’s a poem from Thomas Merton which came out in 1968:

Love of the Sultan

A slave
cuts off his own head
after a long speech
declaring how much
he loves the sultan
A quaint old Asian custom
Love of the sultan!

It looks like the ship of state is sinking.

Mayday! Mayday!

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