August 11, 2016
The House is currently in the midst of a District Work period. I have been meeting with constituents, attending events and catching up on paperwork.
I met with constituents associated with J St, an organization that describes itself as “pro-Israel and pro-peace.” They believe the future of Israel as a democratic Jewish state is best served by the two-state solution, Israel coexisting in peace with an independent Palestine, both recognized internationally. I share that goal, and we talked about the difficulties we foresaw in achieving it in the short term. Conflicts and instability in the region make it harder than it has been in some time. That said, I respect their determination to persist in seeking diplomatic resolution to this hitherto intractable problem. Constituents spoke too of their opposition to the Boycott, Sanctions, and Divestment (BDS) movement which seeks to make Israel a pariah nation.
I had a very interesting meeting with officials from OptiRTC Inc. This company is developing better ways to manage stormwater through innovative technology. Stormwater management is a significant environmental and public health issue. If not properly addressed, it can pollute our waterways. OptiRTC Inc. employees were involved with seeking ways to manage stormwater issues in a local salt marsh. They developed technology using a web server to monitor and manage the stormwater flowing into and out of the salt marsh. The test was a success and now officials are working to expand the use of this technology. This essentially involves incorporating special sensors and weather forecast monitoring to better manage stormwater movement.
This week I toured the Boston headquarters of online furniture and home accessory retailer Wayfair. I met with staffers and we talked about the specific challenges that web-based retailers encounter when it comes to engaging customers and growing their inventory. Wayfair’s founders began selling products through just one website. Today, more than 200 unique websites showcase the company’s diverse products. I enjoyed the tour, meeting with local employees and hearing their views on e-commerce. Wayfair is a compelling example of how much the retail landscape has changed since consumers began shopping online.
Greater Boston Real Estate Board
On Wednesday I attended a Greater Boston Real Estate Board (GBREB) meeting and spoke with attendees. The GBREB is a professional organization whose members include property owners and managers, realtors, rental housing administrators and others in the industry. The GBREB provides a forum for its more than 8,000 members to exchange ideas and share information. I spoke with attendees about the role of the federal government when it comes to housing policy as well as the challenges of living in a robust real estate market. Affordable housing is always an issue in the Greater Boston area.
I met with representatives of Takeda Pharmaceuticals, a Japanese firm founded in Osaka in the late 18th century to produce medicines based on traditional Asian remedies. It has grown into one of the world’s most important pharma firms. Takeda Pharmaceuticals USA, Inc. was established in 1998 and the firm has decided to centralize its clinical research and development work in Cambridge. This is one of many international enterprises that has recognized greater Boston as the best place in the world to do biomedical work. Our great universities, research institutes and teaching hospitals constitute what the Takeda representatives described as an “eco-system for innovation.”
I met with members of Women’s Action for New Directions (WAND) this week. This national non-profit was originally founded as Women’s Action for Nuclear Disarmament with a focus on redirecting military spending toward domestic needs. Today, WAND members advocate for policies that promote peace and reduce the dangers of nuclear proliferation. WAND members shared their thoughts with me about federal spending priorities. I reiterated my convictions that in a dangerous world a credible deterrence was essential, but that force should always be a last resort, and that the Constitution vested in Congress the authority to declare war.
South Sudan Arms Embargo
As regular readers will recall, I have long had a humanitarian interest in the violence afflicting the Sudanese people and their countries. This week, I was part of a bipartisan group of House members who co-signed a letter to President Obama, urging that the United State lead the United Nations Security Council in enacting an arms embargo on South Sudan. The entire country is in danger of being pulled into civil war. I believe it is time to do what we can to cut the flow of combat weaponry to the area to decrease the risk of violence and foster an environment for political progress. I thank all of my colleagues who joined me in signing this letter.
Below is the full text of the letter.
Dear Mr. President:
We urge the United States to lead the United Nations Security Council in enacting an arms embargo on South Sudan to decrease the risk of violence and foster an environment for political progress. It is past time for threats.
You have been central in securing moments of hope for the people of South Sudan through the signing of the August 2015 peace agreement and the formation of the Transitional Government of National Unity. The recent violence in Juba, where Sudan People’s Liberation Army helicopters and heavy weaponry were used in civilian neighborhoods and hundreds were killed – including two UN peacekeepers – shows how precarious all that progress is. Even now, fighting in the Equatoria states and other parts of the country threatens to draw the country into full-scale war.
President Salva Kiir and Vice President Riek Machar are failing in their fundamental responsibilities to preserve the lives of their citizens and ensure the survival of their nation. Just in the last few days the government has threatened to bar the Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Committee from returning to Juba, denied scores of UN staff entry into the country, and organized protests against the UN Mission in the Republic of South Sudan (UNMISS).
The absence of an arms embargo is costing lives every day, with dubious progress on implementation of the peace agreement and ongoing government obstruction of ceasefire monitors’ ability to verify reported violence since the signing of the agreement. Both sides have continued to procure arms, even after the agreement, with the government having acquired the bulk of arms and ammunition while at the same time being responsible for most of the human rights violations committed in 2015, including targeting civilians. An arms embargo would be an effective step to uphold the interests of the people of South Sudan, and should be conceived as a means by which to prevent further suffering on the part of the South Sudanese people.
An arms embargo would:
- Reduce the flow of arms and enhance civilian protection: An embargo would take the necessary measures to prevent, or at the very least reduce and deter, the direct or indirect supply, sale or transfer into South Sudan of arms and related materiel of all types, including heavy weaponry and ammunition, military and paramilitary equipment, and spare parts or technical assistance or training related to any of this materiel. Doing so would inhibit the ability of armed actors to threaten civilians and tenuous progress toward peace.
- Demonstrate to South Sudan’s leaders that there are consequences for continuing to wage a war in which civilians bear the brunt of the violence: The threat of an embargo has been used to coerce President Kiir into signing last year’s peace agreement. That threat is now an empty one.
- Complement a strengthened UNMISS: The US Government has rightly supported the strengthening of UNMISS in response to the recent violence in Juba. However, if the Security Council approves the mandate without an arms embargo in place, it would effectively allow warring groups to continue to use and replenish arms and ammunition, including heavy weaponry - that have in the past been used against civilians, peacekeepers, aid workers, and foreign diplomats. Additionally, this would present a direct threat to the Regional Protection Force and undermine its ability to carry out its tasks.
- Encourage South Sudan’s leaders to spend government funds on rebuilding their shattered country and addressing the catastrophic humanitarian situation, rather than building their arsenals: The UN has estimated that 4.8 million people are food insecure, and the UN Panel of Experts has documented that the government of South Sudan has spent tens of millions of dollars procuring arms throughout the conflict. The country’s economy is in crisis and the cost of the ongoing conflict is not one the South Sudanese people can afford.
We thank you for your leadership on South Sudan and understand a new Administration will inherit these challenges in January. We urge you to secure your legacy as a peacemaker by directing the U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations to use the voice and the vote of the United States to seek an arms embargo on South Sudan. Now, more than ever, the people of South Sudan need determined action to secure peace for their country.
Michael E. Capuano (MA)
Thomas J. Rooney (FL)
Barbara Lee (CA)
Eliot Engel (NY)
Karen Bass (CA)
David N. Cicilline (RI)
James P. McGovern (MA)
Peter A. DeFazio (OR)
Brian Higgins (NY)
Bobby L. Rush (IL)
Michael F. Doyle (PA)
Emanuel Cleaver, II (MO)
Lois Capps (CA)