Pentagon may tap military pay, pensions for border wall
By ANDREW TAYLOR and LISA MASCARO
Friday, March 8
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Pentagon is planning to tap $1 billion in leftover funds from military pay and pension accounts to help President Donald Trump pay for his long-sought border wall, a top Senate Democrat said Thursday.
Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., told The Associated Press, “It’s coming out of military pay and pensions. $1 billion. That’s the plan.”
Durbin said the funds are available because Army recruitment is down and a voluntary early military retirement program is being underutilized.
The development comes as Pentagon officials are seeking to minimize the amount of wall money that would come from military construction projects that are so cherished by lawmakers.
Durbin said, “Imagine the Democrats making that proposal — that for whatever our project is, we’re going to cut military pay and pensions.”
Durbin, the top Democrat on the Appropriations panel for the Pentagon, was among a bipartisan group of lawmakers who met with Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan on Thursday morning.
The Pentagon is planning to transfer money from various accounts into a fund dedicated to drug interdiction, with the money then slated to be redirected for border barriers and other purposes.
More attention has been paid to Trump’s declaration of a national emergency to tap up to $3.6 billion from military construction projects to pay for the wall. The Democratic-controlled House voted last month to reject Trump’s move, and the GOP-held Senate is likely to follow suit next week despite a White House lobbying push.
Senate Republicans met again Wednesday to sort through their options in hopes of making next week’s voting more politically palatable. They are struggling to come up with an alternative to simply voting up or down on the House measure as required under a never-used Senate procedure to reject a presidential emergency declaration. Lawmakers in both parties believe Trump is inappropriately infringing on Congress’ power of the purse.
Senators are increasingly uneasy ahead of voting next week because they don’t know exactly where the money to build the wall will come from and if it will postpone military projects in their home states.
Vice President Mike Pence told senators during their meeting a week ago that he would get back to them with an update. But senators said they don’t yet have a response from the administration.
“It’s a concern,” said Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas. He said a number of senators have been talking to the White House about other ways the administration could shuffle the money without relying on the authority under the emergency declaration, which is likely to become tied up in litigation.
The pitch is, “Why have this additional controversy when it could be done in a less controversial way?” he said. “Apparently, the White House is not persuaded.”
The Army missed its recruiting goal this year, falling short by about 6,500 soldiers, despite pouring an extra $200 million into bonuses and approving some additional waivers for bad conduct or health issues.
Congress also appropriated money to give members of the military incentive to take early retirement, but enrollment in the program is coming in well under expectations.
“This is pay that would have gone to Army recruits that we can’t recruit,” Durbin said. “So there’s a ‘savings’ because we can’t recruit. The other part was they offered a voluntary change in military pensions, and they overestimated how many people would sign up for it.”
Veterans are concerned about climate change, and that matters
March 8, 2019
Naval Station Norfolk in Virginia, the Navy’s largest base, is endangered by sea level rise.
Matthew Motta, Postdoctoral Fellow in the Science of Science Communication at the Annenberg Public Policy Center, University of Pennsylvania
Jennifer Spindel, Assistant Professor of International Security, University of Oklahoma
Robert Ralston, Doctoral candidate, University of Minnesota
Disclosure statement: The authors do not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and have disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
News that the Trump administration plans to create a panel devoted to challenging government warnings about climate change has been met with opposition from members of the U.S. military. Citing concerns about the effects of climate change on national security, more than four dozen top-ranking military officials came out in opposition to the Trump administration’s plan.
Military concern about the effects of climate change on national security is not new. Months before former Secretary James Mattis left the Defense Department in January 2019, he acknowledged that increased coastal flooding and tropical storms, resulting from rising average global temperatures, pose a threat to as many as one-third of U.S. military bases.
In addition to its potential effect on military infrastructure, climate change could pose threats to global security. A recent IPCC report predicts that rising global temperatures, drought and other extreme weather patterns are likely to become more frequent and severe across the globe. This could create competition and conflict for increasingly scarce water and agricultural resources, particularly in the developing world or in fragile states.
Although climate change could pose major risks to national security, few have asked current and veteran members of the armed forces what they think about climate change and its potential effects. Our new survey research finds that most U.S. veteran members of the armed services in our sample think that the planet is warming, and many of them are concerned about what climate change means for U.S. security.
Combating climate change: A call to arms?
Past and present members of the military are more likely to support politically conservative views than politically liberal ones. But to characterize the military as uniformly conservative misses an important element of nuance.
Numerous surveys of active duty service members and veterans in the early 2000s demonstrated that enlisted members of the military tended to vote in patterns similar to their civilian counterparts. However, recent research has pointed to a shift rightward within the military and found that higher-ranking officers and younger vets are especially more likely to be conservative, identify as Republicans, and support President Trump than nonveterans.
Despite their conservative tendencies, there is reason to suspect that armed forces members are concerned about the effects of climate change – a position held most commonly by ideological liberals. Service members might, for example, have observed the impact of major storms or rising sea levels on the day-to-day functioning of military bases. Or they could have used weapons systems that run on renewable energy sources, including aircraft, tanks and solar energy-powered backpacks.
The Pentagon is continuing to take steps to address climate change, despite President Trump saying such preparation should stop. U.S. military personnel are thus likely to have more experience with climate change effects, solutions to it or both.
To study past and present military personnel’s attitudes about climate change, we conducted a survey between Jan. 17-21, 2019 of 293 U.S. active duty or veteran service members, recruited via the online service Lucid. While this sample is not perfectly representative of the military writ large, it is both ideologically and demographically diverse. Our sample closely resembles veteran population benchmarks on race, educational attainment, and, perhaps most importantly, party identification.
We asked two related questions. First, we asked respondents which of the following statements is closest to their view: (1) “The Earth is getting warmer mostly because of human activity such as burning fossil fuels;” (2) “The Earth is getting warmer mostly because of natural patterns in the Earth’s environment; (3) “There is no solid evidence that the Earth is getting warmer;” or (4) “not sure.”
If respondents answered that the Earth is getting warmer, we then asked how likely it is that “U.S. military bases in coastal or island regions will be damaged by flooding or severe storms” and that “Drought and famine will cause international military conflict for food and water resources.”
First, the survey results showed that even though veterans and active duty service members tend to be politically conservative, their levels of belief in human-caused climate change are virtually the same. In our sample, 44 percent of veterans and active duty service members expressed belief in anthropogenic climate change. This tracks closely with nationally representative estimates of anthropogenic climate change consensus in the U.S. adult population. A 2016 Pew survey that featured a question identical to ours found about 48 percent believed in anthropogenic climate change (although some surveys asking other versions of this question, like this 2018 survey from Gallup, sometimes find higher levels). The results also track closely with a recent survey on the Lucid platform, used to conduct our study, which found that about 50 percent of Americans believe in human-caused climate change.
Second, we found that many veterans and active duty service members are concerned about the effects that climate change might have on security. More than three-quarters, 77 percent, of respondents consider it fairly or very likely that military bases in coastal or island regions will be damaged by flooding or severe storms as a result of climate change. Fewer veterans and active duty service members – 61 percent – consider drought and famine-driven international military conflict over food and water resources fairly or very likely to occur.
Third, we found that veterans and active duty service members who accept the scientific consensus on the causes of climate change are considerably more likely to be concerned about its effects on national security than those who do not.
To be specific, 87 percent of veterans and active duty service members who accept anthropogenic climate change consider damage to U.S. military bases in coastal or island regions due to flooding or severe storms fairly or very likely to occur, compared to 64 percent of those who do not accept anthropogenic climate change. And, 70 percent of veterans and active duty service members who accept anthropogenic climate change consider drought and famine causing international military conflict for food and water resources fairly or very likely to occur, compared to 49 percent of those who do not accept anthropogenic climate change.
Why this matters
U.S. citizens appreciate and respect veterans. Some believe that veterans’ views on climate change could influence others.
Belief in climate change among past and active military personnel is noteworthy, because veterans are an important and influential voting block in American politics. Veterans comprise about 7 percent of the U.S. voting population, and millions of dollars are spent every year trying to win their political support, and advance their policy priorities US$13 million in independent expenditures.
Service members’ views could also affect the views of civilians, thus also pressuring political leaders to take action. The American public is deferential to and has a high degree of trust in the military. If enough veterans express concern about climate change, this reliably conservative voting bloc may push Republican officials to take policy action on climate change.
Thoreau’s great insight for the Anthropocene: Wildness is an attitude, not a place
March 8, 2019
Henry David Thoreau lived at 255 Main Street in Concord, Massachusetts from 1850 until his death in 1862.
Author: Robert M. Thorson, Professor of Geology, University of Connecticut
Disclosure statement: Robert M. Thorson has consulted for various federal, state, and nonprofit agencies and nonprofits, including Teacher’s Training Workshops on Thoreau funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities. He is a lifetime member of the Thoreau Society and an official collaborator with the Walden Woods Project for “The Guide to Walden Pond.”
Partners: University of Connecticut provides funding as a member of The Conversation US.
When Americans quote writer and naturalist Henry David Thoreau, they often reach for his assertion that “In Wildness is the preservation of the world.” This phrase elicited little response when Thoreau first read it during a lecture in 1851. A century later, however, it had become a guiding mantra for the American environmental movement, adopted by the Sierra Club as its motto and launched into the cultural stratosphere via bumper stickers, T-shirts and posters.
Unfortunately, the line was cherry-picked from its original context, conflates wildness with wilderness and predates Thoreau’s later, more nuanced insights about wildness. His mature views, which I stumbled onto when researching my book “The Boatman: Henry David Thoreau’s River Years,” can more effectively help us cope with a world so changed by people that geologists have proposed a new epoch, the Anthropocene.
To the mature Thoreau, wildness was an entanglement of different realities and more of an attitude than an attribute. A pervasive condition lurking beneath the surface – especially in the midst of civilization. A creative force, willed not by intent but by impulse, accident and contingency. As a card-carrying geologist who has written two books on Thoreau as a natural scientist and lifelong “river rat,” and the first “Guide to Walden Pond,” I believe the mature Thoreau lurking beneath distorted cultural motifs has much to tell us.
People often assume Thoreau lived in solitude at Walden for decades, but he actually spent most of his life on Concord’s Main Street.
Romanticizing the wild
Shortly after sunset on April 23, 1851, members of the Concord Lyceum gathered at First Parish Unitarian Church. One of their most loyal members, “H. D. Thoreau,” stepped up to the podium to read his newest lecture “The Wild.” His late-spring timing was perfect, this being the wildest time of year for the romantics and naturalists of his 19th-century agroecosystem.
“I wish to speak a word for Nature,” he opened boldly, “for absolute freedom and wildness, as contrasted with a freedom and culture merely civil.” Humans, he claimed, were “part and parcel of Nature, rather than a member of society.” These prophetic, inclusive statements constitute America’s declaration of interdependence.
This lecture was published in The Atlantic as an essay titled “Walking” after Thoreau’s death in 1862. In it Thoreau recast the “howling wilderness” of the Puritan divines who settled Concord, Massachusetts in the mid-1630s as an ideal spiritual landscape for neo-pagans of the early 1850s.
But we know from Thoreau’s voluminous writings that the insight for his “In Wildness” mantra came not from some high mountain temple, deep forest or dismal bog, but a from pair of panoramic art exhibits that Thoreau saw in late 1850 – likely in urban Boston, likely via the rattling railroad.
In September 1853, having recently returned from a moose hunt in interior Maine, Thoreau came up with the idea of setting aside wild landscapes for posterity:
“Why should not we… have our national preserves… in which the bear and panther, and some even of the hunter race, may still exist, and not be ‘civilized off the face of the earth’ –our forests… not for idle sport or food, but for inspiration and our own true recreation.”
By then Thoreau was a middle-class, stay-at-home resident of the bustling market town of Concord, and the surrounding area was being rapidly clear-cut for farms and fuel and industrialized with mines, turnpikes, railroads, bridges, dams and canals. “I cannot but feel,” he wrote despondently on March 23, 1856, “as if I lived in a tamed, and, as it were, emasculated country… Is it not a maimed and imperfect nature that I am conversant with? I am reminded that this my life in nature… is lamentably incomplete.”
No wildness distant from humans
Finally Thoreau resolved the tension between his yearning for primitive nature and his role in helping to civilize it as a surveyor for land development. While searching for native cranberries in late August 1856, he found himself in the far corner of a small bog so worthless that it had been apparently untouched by human hands. There, he realized,
“It is in vain to dream of a wildness distant from ourselves. There is none such. It is the bog in our brain and bowels, the primitive vigor of Nature in us, that inspires that dream. I shall never find in the wilds of Labrador any greater wildness than in some recess in Concord.”
His explanation is clear. Wildness is an attitude, a perception. “A howling wilderness does not howl,” he wrote, “it is the imagination of the traveler that does the howling.” Using his imagination, he could even find wildness in a patch of weedy ferns: “Yet how essentially wild they are! As wild, really, as those strange fossil plants whose impressions I see on my coal.” By this stage, Thoreau was finding wildness in lumps of fossil fuel.
One of Thoreau’s final conceptions of wildness is most relevant to the Anthropocene world. The scene was a sparkling morning on Aug. 11, 1859. He was boating the lower Assabet River, making measurements for a scientific consulting project. Drifting toward him on the smooth current came a parade of iridescent freshwater mussel shells, “floating down in mid-stream – nicely poised on the water,” each left “with its concave side uppermost,” each a “pearly skiff set afloat by the industrious millers.”
In that moment, Thoreau realized that each of his delicately balanced “skiffs” was a consequence of at least a dozen commingled cultural actions, from muskrats eating the mussels to farmers inadvertently improving mussel habitat with sediment pollution and industrialists storing and releasing hydropower to create factory goods.
After this insight, Thoreau began to see his entire watershed world as a meta-consequence of three centuries’ worth of human perturbations, literally rippling through his local system along every conceivable energy gradient. For example, when monitoring stream stage to the precision of 1/64th of an inch, he realized that seemingly wild rivers mirrored the work schedules of upstream factories, and that “even the fishes” kept the Christian Sabbath. His whole local universe was ubiquitously, unpredictably, impetuously and wildly reacting to what today we call global change.
As with a coin, our modern Anthropocene condition flips Thoreau’s declaration of interdependence. On its 1851 side, humans are “part and parcel” of nature as organic beings embedded within it. On its 1859 side side, nature is “part and parcel” of us, hopelessly entangled and embedded in our works and residues.
Fast forward to 2019. Earth’s planetary system, provoked by our overreach, is now doing its own thing in places, at scales and on schedules beyond our control. Wildness is bubbling up everywhere: Wilder fires, wilder stock markets, wilder weather, higher floods, drowning seas, collapsing ice sheets, accelerating extinctions and demographic unrest.
Thoreau’s realistic, late-in-life insights can help us comprehend these ongoing Anthropocene impacts, accept responsibility for the changes coming our way, reframe them in more positive terms and reaffirm that Nature is ultimately in charge.
He teaches us that wildness is much, much more than raw nature. It’s a perception emanating from our minds. A base instinct, uncluttered by rational thought. The creative genius of artistic, scientific and technological creativity. The spontaneous emergence of order from disorder, as with drifts on dry snow or the origin of life. Finally, wildness is the meta-wildness of complex, nonlinear systems, the sum total of forward-propagating, somewhat unpredictable cascades of matter and energy.
The mantra “In Wildness is the preservation of the world” can remain true, provided we ask ourselves what we mean by wildness and what we’re trying to preserve.