Today, the Senate Armed Services Committee held a hearing on detainee interrogation. Testifying before the committee, former Navy general counsel Alberto Mora, who battled within the Pentagon to shut down the use of torture, blasted the Bush administration’s abusive detention practices as leading to the recruitment of new radicals and the deaths of more American soldiers:
[T]here are serving U.S. flag-rank officers who maintain that the first and second identifiable causes of U.S. combat deaths in Iraq — as judged by their effectiveness in recruiting insurgent fighters into combat — are, respectively the symbols of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo.
The talking points of the day from the McCain camp involve the idea that Barack Obama wants to fight terrorism with law enforcement alone, that he has a “September 10 mentality.” As Richard Clarke pointed out on a conference call earlier today, this is a pretty hoary chestnut “they said that about the Clinton administration, they said that about Senator Kerry, and now they’re saying it about Senator Obama” but it’s never been true. Michael Goldfarb at McCain’s blog alleges that “Obama wants to take us back to the bad old days of going after terrorists with prosecutors rather than predators.” This is, of course, not what Obama is proposing — as Jon Chait says “Obama did propose going after terrorists, which prompted McCain to accuse him of having ‘once suggested bombing our ally, Pakistan.’”
But of course the GOP philosophy has for years now been that we need to hit the terrorists hard where they aren’t, while letting problems in Central Asia fester because they’re difficult. Meanwhile, the “old days” Goldfarb is talking about never existed. In retrospect, I think we all wish the Clinton administration had been somewhat more aggressive in its approach to al-Qaeda, but as I note in the book more Americans (and many, many more people overall) have died as a result of the idiotic response to 9/11 that Bush and McCain embraced than actually died on that day.
The shortcomings of previous policy are no reason to go implement a worse policy. Military force will play a role in U.S. counterterrorism strategy, but it simply has a limited utility in dealing with the problem. If you don’t recognize that, you wind up blundering down the Bush/Rumsfeld/McCain/Feith road of sending troops to Iraq because Iraq contains good military targets rather than coming up with an actual strategy for fighting terrorism.
Dries Buytaert, creator of Drupal, proclaims “Glycerine” by Bush to be his “all-time favorite song.” This is perhaps crazier than John McCain running on peace as a campaign theme. I’m a huge apologist for nineties alt-rock, but Bush is just not a very good band. Besides which the best Bush song is clearly “Machine Head”
“Everything Zen” is also better than “Glycerin,” IMHO.
Today, the Washington Times reported on the results of a joint investigation with ABC, which concluded that “mentally distressed veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan are being recruited for government tests on pharmaceutical drugs linked to suicide and other violent side effects.”
In studies with the anti-smoking drug Chantix, for example, the VA “took three months to alert its patients about severe mental side effects.” In today’s press briefing, however, White House spokesperson Tony Fratto called the investigation “irresponsible” journalism, complaining that he “had to watch” the “awful” reporting:
I saw the reporting in your paper and on I think it was ABC this morning. I thought actually some of it was some of the most — certainly at least what I saw on television this morning was some of the more irresponsible reporting that I’ve ever seen, in terms of taking what this one — the experience of this one veteran and trying to leave the impression that this was a situation for all veterans. [...]
And to try to imply that — and, in fact, not even imply. I see the words scrolled on a television screen this morning that the V.A. is using our veterans as guinea pigs, I thought was one of the most awful things I’ve ever had to watch on television.
If Fratto read the story instead of simply catching the scroll on a television screen, he’d know that thousands are potentially affected. Roughly nearly 1,000 veterans were enrolled in anti-smoking studies, with 143 using Chantix; 21 veterans reported “adverse effects,” including one who suffered suicidal thoughts.
Furthermore, the VA and other agencies are currently conducting 25 tests on 4,796 veterans, “more than half of whom are just returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.”
Fratto also praised the “wonderful leadership” of VA Secretary James Peake, who recently said that concerns about post-traumatic stress disorder in veterans are “overblown“.
A string of recentarticles on an issue in the Northern California public schools caught our attention today. The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) is threatening to cut off public bus routes that service local school districts, claiming that federal dollars designated for city transit should not be “subsidizing” school buses, harming the ability of private bus companies to compete. The students effected are from predominantly poor neighborhoods, using the buses to transport themselves to better schools than what is available around them.
In the East Bay [Oakland-area], about 30,000 schoolchildren use [public] AC Transit buses to get to and from school, paying $15 a month for discounted youth passes. While many of those trips are on regular routes used for nonschool commuters, some of them with route numbers between 600 and 699 are specially scheduled and routed to serve specific schools. Local officials fear that the change sought by the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) would ban those special routes.
The FTA, however, has proposed no method of replacing these public buses — and certainly nothing speedy enough to be enacted before the next school year. There is no guarantee that private contractors would be willing to service all areas currently covered by public routes, and there is no guarantee that the school districts would have the resources to pay the additional cost.
Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-CA), whose district will be most affected, has voiced concern with the FTA’s mis-shapen priorities: “Instead of looking for ways to make it more difficult for kids to get to school, the FTA should be expanding transportation options for our students.”
Congresswoman Lee is right. The FTA, and the Bush Administration, need to put their money where their mouth is. At time when gas prices are through the roof, cutting access to public buses is counterproductive to ensuring students can get to school, particularly youth from less affluent neighborhoods who set to be the most hurt. (As a San Leandro High student explained, “Take this bus away, and I’ll end up in the streets and probably get into some kind of trouble.) It’s also completely contradictory to the Administration’s drive to encourage mass transit and reduction in energy use. If we’re supposed to be walking to work, carpooling in hybrids and riding the subway, then it would be interesting to hear how the removal of public buses for students furthers that goal.
If you want to know why Barack Obama sometimes comes across as a candidate who doesn’t like to talk about policy details, look no further than his speech on economic competitiveness yesterday. It’s got a lot of details, but like Obama’s other more detail-oriented speeches, it lacks the awesome rhetorical flair of the candidate’s great speeches.
That said, as a policy speech it’s pretty awesome, one of the best efforts to chart a truly progressive, forward-looking approach to the big picture questions that I’ve seen from a practical politician. Rather than a world in which we try to whether economic storms by slashing taxes and cutting services to the bone, or by sealing our borders to trade and immigration, Obama is outlining a vision in which government plays a crucial positive role in providing human capital (i.e., education), physical infrastructure, basic R&D, and in putting our energy policy on a sustainable basis.
This is the clearest example I’ve seen of Obama as education reformer, talking about universal preschool and investing more resources in the most challenging classrooms, but also noting that “resources alone won’t create the schools that we need to help our children succeed” and we “need to encourage innovation – by adopting curricula and the school calendar to the needs of the 21st century; by updating the schools of education that produce most of our teachers; by welcoming charter schools within the public schools system, and streamlining the certification process for engineers or businesspeople who want to shift careers and teach.”
On energy and infrastructure there aren’t really any ideas that he hasn’t advanced previously in the campaign, but the National Infrastructure Reinvestment Bank concept gets a more substantial pitch than I’d heard since the day it was first mooted. Then come the criticisms of McCain and at the end some more lyrical moments:
We have a choice. We can continue the Bush status quo – as Senator McCain wants to do – and we will become a country in which few reap the benefits of the global economy, while a growing number work harder for less and depend upon an overburdened public sector. An America in which we run up deficits and expose ourselves to the whims of oil-rich dictators while the opportunities for our children and grandchildren shrink. That is one course we could take.
Or, we can rise together. If we choose to change, just imagine what we can do. The great manufacturers of the 20th century can turn out cars that run on renewable energy in the 21st. Biotechnology labs can find new cures; new rail lines and roadways can connect our communities; goods made here in Michigan can be exported around the world. Our children can get a world-class education, and their dreams of tomorrow can eclipse even our greatest hopes of today.
Poblano at DailyKos notes that disgraced “reporter” Jeff Gannon is blogging at the National Press Club (NPC). Gannon gained notoriety as the former male escort who, for two years, gained a White House press pass using a pseudonym. There appear to be seven active blogs on the NPC’s site, including Gannon’s. Steve O’Hearn, chairman of the NPC’s new media committee — of which Gannon is also a member — told ThinkProgress that the “current policy” is that any NPC member can have a blog on the organization’s site, although it’s so far mostly members of the committee. Gannon’s most recent post goes after CodePink and its “ties to terrorists and repressive regimes around the world.”
Noting that smoking has become a rather class-bound phenomenon, Tony Horwitz suggests that Barack Obama could try to court working-class voters by abandoning his efforts to quit: “Added bonus — Virginia and North Carolina, two leading tobacco-producing states, are both in play this election.”
Note that several of America’s greatest recent fictional presidents, including Jed Bartlett and Jeff Bridges’ character in The Contender, secretly smoke.
A few months ago, the McCain campaign took a serious credibility hit on their only real issue, national security. McCain criticized Barack Obama for Obama’s assertion that “if we have actionable intelligence about high-value terrorist targets [in Pakistan] and President Musharraf won’t act, we will.” McCain misrepresented Obama’s statement as a threat to “bomb our ally, Pakistan,” claiming it represented “confused leadership.”
Unfortunately for McCain, the very day he made that charge the Washington Post revealed that, having obtained actionable intelligence about high-value terrorist targets in Pakistan, the United States acted, launching two Hellfire missiles and killing Abu Laith al-Libi, a senior al-Qaeda commander. In other words, the U.S. government was actually following to the Obama model of anti-terrorism (which involves actually breaking up terror networks and capturing and, when necessary, killing terrorist leaders where they are) not the McCain model (which involves making a lot of tough-sounding speeches about terrorism, and then going off and invading countries that pose no terrorist threat to the United States, leaving the actual terrorists to roam free in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border area.)
On a press call today, in which Team McCain tried desperately to make an issue of Barack Obama’s recent comments on fighting terrorism within constitutional constraints, McCain’s foreign policy/national security director Randy Scheunemann was asked about the Obama-McCain disagreement over Pakistan strikes. Scheunemann actually had to walk back McCain’s previous criticisms quite a bit. Scheunemann claimed that, in criticizing Obama’s statements about Pakistan, McCain had only meant that it was “reckless…to talk in public” about striking inside Pakistan in order to demonstrate his national security “bonafides,” because this “complicates our ability to cooperate with Pakistani authorities.”
It’s pretty clear that the McCain campaign understands that their candidate has nothing to offer the American people except his national security “bonafides” — a notion driven home by the campaign’s willingness to abandon their “energy day” schedule to try and score a weak hit on their only issue — but it’s really hard to take the “reckless” charge seriously from the campaign of a guy who likes to sing in public about bombing Iran, or who casually suggests that the U.S. should stay in Iraq for a hundred years. These sorts of reckless comments don’t just complicate America’s ability to cooperate with one particular government, they complicate our ability to work with all of them.