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Committing To A New Birth Of Freedom: It’s Time To Leave 9/11 Behind

After we honor the 10th anniversary of the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, we need to leave the day behind. As a nation we have looked back for too long. We learned lessons from the attacks, but so many of them were wrong. The last decade was a detour that left our nation weaker, more divided and less certain of itself.

Reflections on the meaning of the horror and the years that followed are inevitably inflected by our own political or philosophical leanings. It’s a critique that no doubt applies to my thoughts as well. We see what we choose to see and use the event as we want to use it.

This does nothing to honor those who died and those who sacrificed to prevent even more suffering. In the future, the anniversary will best be reserved as a simple day of remembrance in which all of us humbly offer our respect for the anguish and the heroism of those individuals and their families.

But if we continue to place 9/11 at the center of our national consciousness, we will keep making the same mistakes. Our nation’s future depended on far more than the outcome of a vaguely defined “war on terrorism,” and it still does. Al-Qaeda is a dangerous enemy.

But our country and the world were never threatened by the caliphate of its mad fantasies.

We asked for great sacrifice over the past decade from the very small portion of our population who wear the country’s uniform, particularly the men and women of the Army and the Marine Corps. We should honor them, too. And, yes, we should pay tribute to those in the intelligence services, the FBI and our police forces who have done such painstaking work to thwart another attack.

It was often said that terrorism could not be dealt with through “police work,” as if the difficult and unheralded labor involved was not grand or bold enough to satisfy our longing for clarity in what was largely a struggle in the shadows.

Forgive me, but I find it hard to forget former president George W. Bush’s 2004 response to Sen. John Kerry’s comment that “the war on terror is less of a military operation and far more of an intelligence-gathering and law-enforcement operation.”

Bush retorted: “I disagree — strongly disagree. . . . After the chaos and carnage of September the 11th, it is not enough to serve our enemies with legal papers. With those attacks, the terrorists and their supporters declared war on the United States of America, and war is what they got.” What The Washington Post called “an era of endless war” is what we got, too.

Bush, of course, understood the importance of “intelligence gathering” and “law enforcement.” His administration presided over a great deal of both, and his supporters spoke, with justice, of his success in staving off further acts of terror. Yet he could not resist the temptation to turn on Kerry’s statement of the obvious. Thus was an event that initially united the nation used, over and over, to aggravate our political disharmony. This is also why we must put it behind us.

In the flood of anniversary commentary, notice how often the term “the lost decade” has been invoked. We know now, as we should have known all along, that American strength always depends first on our strength at home — on a vibrant, innovative and sensibly regulated economy, on levelheaded fiscal policies, on the ability of our citizens to find useful work, on the justice of our social arrangements.

This is not “isolationism.” It is a common sense that was pushed aside by the talk of “glory” and “honor,” by utopian schemes to transform the world by abruptly reordering the Middle East — and by our fears. While we worried that we would be destroyed by terrorists, we ignored the larger danger of weakening ourselves by forgetting what made us great.

We have no alternative from now on but to look forward and not back. This does not dishonor the fallen heroes, and Lincoln explained why at Gettysburg. “We can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow this ground,” he said. “The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract.” The best we could do, Lincoln declared, was to commit ourselves to “a new birth of freedom.” This is still our calling.

By: E. J. Dionne, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, September 7, 2011

September 11, 2011 Posted by | Democracy, Disasters, Freedom, Government, Ground Zero, Homeland Security, Liberty, Media, Middle East, Pentagon, Politics, Terrorism, War | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Tom Coburn’s Cuts: Military’s Tricare Prime Health Care Program Targeted

Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) wants to cut taxpayer funding for non-military elements of the Defense Department, starting with making retired, uninjured service members pay more for what he described as “extremely low-cost health care for life” for themselves, their wives and dependents under the Tricare Prime system.

For military retirees eligible for Medicare, he also wants to raise the co-payments that they are charged to be in Tricare for life, the second payer for health care after Medicare. In addition, he wants to increase low fees that Tricare beneficiaries pay for pharmaceuticals purchased at their local drugstores.

Former defense secretary Robert M. Gates proposed raising Tricare Prime enrollment fees for single retirees from $230 a year to $260 a year and fees for retiree families from $460 a year to $520 a year. Coburn wants the fees to be much higher and more in line with private-sector health plans.

Part of his concern is fairness, first for uninjured veterans who, for example, served in Iraq and/or Afghanistan but “leave the military without serving 20 years [and] are not entitled to any of these health-care benefits.” They represent some 70 percent of those serving, according to Pentagon officials.

Another comparison he makes is to other federal government workers whose plans are not as cheap. A medical doctor, Coburn told reporters last Monday: “Nobody in the country, as a single person working 20 years for the government, should be able to get health care for $250 a year. Nobody was ever promised that, and nobody should be able to do that.”

Instead, he wants to increase the enrollment fee for single retirees to “approximately $2,000 per year and $3,500 for a family.” At the same time he would limit out-of-pocket expenses at $7,500 for those retirees with families. He thinks these changes could save $11.5 billion a year.

His Tricare for life would require retirees to pay up to $550 for half the initial cost not covered by Medicare and then up to $3,025, after which all costs would be paid by Tricare. This change could save $4.3 billion a year.

Coburn wants to reduce the $8 billion annual government share of the cost of drugs that Tricare beneficiaries purchase from their local private retail pharmacies rather than buying them at lower cost by mail order or at military base facilities. Where the price is now $3 for a 30-day supply of a generic drug and $9 for a brand-name from private pharmacies, Coburn would raise that to$15 for generic and $25 for brand names and save some $2.6 billion a year.

Coburn told reporters he has no doubt about the reaction to his Tricare ideas.

“There’s no question,” he said, “. . . retired military, they won’t like what I’ve done. But the fact is is nobody’s going to like what we’ve done, because everybody gets a pinch — everybody. ”

Beyond health care, Coburn has several other proposals that will rattle the Pentagon. He wants to eliminate most of the $1.3 billion-a-year subsidy that supports the Defense Commissary system of 252 grocery stores on military bases worldwide. Prices at commissaries are much lower than at civilian supermarkets; they are listed at cost plus a 5 percent surcharge. That money goes to offset costs of new commissaries or to repair and maintain old ones. It does not pay for salaries and benefits of the roughly 18,000 people who work at the commissaries.

Coburn supports a Congressional Budget Office proposal that would reduce the taxpayer subsidy over five years and see a gradual raise in prices so commissaries could become self-sufficient. The increase in cost, according to the CBO, would amount to $400 per service family per year and save the government about $900 million annually.

He also wants to close down the Congressionally Directed Medical Research Program, which for more than 20 years has added around $200 million a year primarily for breast, lung and prostate cancer projects that have to be managed primarily by contractors. Coburn’s option is to “transfer funding for cancer research that affects the general population back to [the National Institutes of Health] and reduce the administrative costs of administering this research for savings.”

By: Walter Pincus, The Washington Post, July 24, 2011

July 25, 2011 Posted by | Conservatives, Deficits, Economic Recovery, Economy, Federal Budget, GOP, Health Care Costs, Lawmakers, Medicare, Pentagon, Politics, Republicans | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Boehner The Extortionist: “Give Us Trillions In Cuts In Medicare and Medicaid Or We Blow Up The Economy”

Stripped of its politician’s gloss, this is the message that House Speaker John Boehner delivered to Wall Street Monday in discussing the price Republicans demand for raising the debt ceiling.

Boehner portrays himself as a reluctant extortionist: “It’s true that allowing America to default would be irresponsible.” But he told the barons of Wall Street he has no choice. The Tea Party made him do it: “Washington’s arrogance has triggered a political rebellion in our country. And it would be more irresponsible to raise the debt ceiling without simultaneously taking dramatic steps to reduce spending and reform the budget process.”

Notice the Speaker’s phrasing. He curses deficits and debt but he isn’t focused on them. He is focused on “our spending addiction.” “Everything is on the table,” he says, “with the exception of tax hikes.”

And even that is a half-truth, since Boehner and his party have also no appetite for real cuts in the defense budget. Boehner isn’t pushing to get out of Iraq and Afghanistan and roll back the costly U.S. global police role. In the budget that Boehner pushed through the House, Republicans voted to give the Pentagon back most of the relatively nominal defense cuts that Defense Secretary Robert Gates had projected over the next years. And many harshly censored the president for suggesting that another $400 billion in cuts might be chipped out of the more than $8 trillion the Pentagon will spend over the next 12 years.

So if tax hikes aren’t allowed—even though the wealthiest Americans are now paying a lower effective tax rate than their chauffeurs—and defense cuts are off the table, how does Boehner propose to get “trillions” in spending cuts? Medicare and Medicaid get the ax. Or as Boehner puts it in politician speak, “Everything on the table” includes “honest conversations about how best to preserve Medicare.”

The budget math is inescapable. The federal government, as Paul Krugman puts it, is basically an insurance system for our retirement years that also has an army. About half of the government’s spending is in retirement programs—Social Security, Medicare, much of Medicaid and other insurance programs. Defense is half of the rest. All of the rest of government —public health, environmental protection, the IRS, the FBI and Justice Department, education, Pell grants, roads, health research, R&D—consumes the last fourth. When Republicans take taxes and defense off the table, and call for trillions in spending cuts and you have no choice but to go after Medicare, Medicaid and/or Social Security.

Which of course is what they are doing. The House budget cuts nearly $800 billion out of Medicaid over the next five years—and ends Medicare as we know it.

There is a bitter irony to this. The current deficits stem largely from three sources—the Bush tax cuts, the two wars that were fought on the tab, and the Great Recession that cratered tax revenues and lifted spending on everything from unemployment to food stamps to the recovery spending. Boehner argues that “adding nearly a trillion to our national debt—money borrowed mostly from foreign investors—caused a further erosion of economic confidence in America.” But he ignores the trillions added to the debt by the Bush tax cuts, the wars and the Great Recession, focusing only on the Obama recovery spending, which made the smallest contribution of all of these to the deficits. And, he rules out reversing the top-end tax cuts or cutting the military spending to address the deficits that they helped to create. (And if we actually adopt his policies, he’s likely to extend the Great Recession as well).

Boehner argues that adopting his position would show that Washington is “starting to get the message” from the American people. But Boehner isn’t hearing what most Americans are saying. Americans are concerned about deficits, and they are certain that government wastes significant portions of their money. They also oppose the billions squandered on subsidies and tax breaks for Big Oil, Big Pharma, Agribusiness and the like—tax breaks that Republicans defend, arguing that repealing them constitutes a tax increase.

In fact, the vast majority of Americans don’t agree with Boehner’s priorities. The Campaign for America’s Future, which I help direct, has started an American Majority campaign to remind the media of this fact. Three quarters oppose cutting Medicare to help balance the budget. Two thirds oppose raising the retirement age. Three fourths oppose cutting state funding for Medicaid. Over 60 percent favor raising taxes on those making over $250,000 to help reduce the deficit. A growing majority think defense cuts ought to be on the table.

Boehner wants to extort his cuts now—at a time when the economy is struggling, and the country is suffering from mass unemployment. With interest rates near record lows, the construction industry idle and our infrastructure in deadly state of disrepair, the country would be well advised to use this occasion to invest in rebuilding the country, and put workers back to work.

Instead, Boehner offered Wall Streeters a shower of conservative shibboleths, stuck randomly like pieces of lint on a serge suit. “The massive borrowing and spending by the Treasury Department crowded out private investment by American businesses of all sizes,” he argued to what must have been a bemused audience well aware that with interest rates low, and business sitting on trillions in capital waiting for demand to pick up, the only “crowding out” comes from ideology displacing reality in Boehner’s head..

Boehner argues that business people crave stability. Even the mere threat of tax hikes causes them to retreat from investments they might otherwise make. Regulatory changes are similarly disruptive:

“For job creators, the ‘promise’ of a large new initiative coming out of Washington is more like a threat. It freezes them. Instead of investing in new employees or new equipment, they make the logical decision to stand pat.” Sadly, Boehner didn’t explain why the threat to blow up the economy if he can’t get trillions in unidentified spending cuts doesn’t constitute the “promise” of a large new initiative coming out of Washington.”

What happens now? Boehner’s position is untenable. He is holding a hostage—the economy—that he dare not shoot. He is demanding trillions in cuts from programs that he dare not name. He is looking for a back room negotiation in which he can get the president to give him cover in enacting cuts that are unpopular to the American people and likely to be ruinous to the economy. If the president falls for it, Republicans make progress in dismantling the Medicare program that they have always opposed, and the president takes the rap for the bad economy.

What’s to be done? Jonathan Chait gets it right. The president—and the country—would benefit from an open discussion, not a backroom negotiation. The president needs to call Boehner out. What are the trillions in cuts that he wants as the price for letting the economy go free? If he lays them out, as in passage of the House budget plan that ends Medicare as we know it, the President can show Americans why they are unacceptable, and use the bully pulpit to take the case to the country. If Boehner isn’t prepared to lay out his cuts, call his bluff. Surely he can’t long threaten to cripple the economy if he doesn’t get cuts that he isn’t prepared to define.

One thing Boehner says rings true. Americans are sick of the arrogance in Washington. But it is hard to imagine a more arrogant politician than one threatening to blow up the economy if he doesn’t get his way.

By: Robert Borosage, CommonDreams.org, May 10, 2011

May 11, 2011 Posted by | Budget, Businesses, Congress, Conservatives, Corporations, Debt Ceiling, Deficits, Economic Recovery, Economy, GOP, Government Shut Down, Jobs, Lawmakers, Medicaid, Medicare, Pentagon, Politics, Republicans, Right Wing, Social Security, States, Taxes, Tea Party, Wall Street | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Take Note, Tea Party: Government Workers Got Osama bin Laden

To  the anti-union governors, the Tea Partyers, the whiner down the street who is  convinced that everyone in the public sector enjoys a high salary and benefits  for doing a cushy job, let us consider the government worker whose effort we  have witnessed in the past week.

Let’s start with all the career  intelligence staffers—and this includes those who worked under the Bush  administration—who have been looking for clues for a decade to chase down and  capture or kill Osama bin Laden. These include people who may have had small  successes that led to last week’s big success. Or they may have had enormous  successes we don’t even know about: Who can say how many major terrorist  attacks our teams at the CIA, the Department of Homeland Security, the White House, and the Pentagon have averted through good intelligence work? They can’t  say. It would endanger their work. And when people complain about what they do—or don’t do—they just have to suck it up and keep quiet, lest they tip off  terrorists.

There are some pretty high-level  government workers to thank—President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary  Clinton. First, kudos to Obama for offering Clinton the job at State after a  bruising and testy primary fight. Kudos to Clinton, as well, for accepting it.  Being in government service, at any level, means setting aside personal gripes  for the sake of the public. They both did that. And if Clinton had a problem  with the United States going into Pakistan to get bin Laden—an idea she questioned during the primary  campaign—she surely got over it, and presumably was deeply involved in the  diplomatic gymnastics required before and after the raid.

And how about the Navy SEALs, who  are, after all, government workers as well? They conducted a brilliant surgical  strike on the most wanted man in the world, and we will likely never know their  names, never be able to approach them on the street just to say thanks. They’re  used to that; they are, I imagine, OK with that. Service isn’t about personal  aggrandizement or fame. It’s about doing your job, sometimes anonymously.

And underneath these teams are the  support staff who helped the intelligence workers and high-ranking officials  and military people do their jobs. They, too, helped make this mission happen.

To the antigovernment forces who  repeatedly ask the (hopefully) rhetorical question, “What good is government?  Name me one government program that has worked.” Of course, we can start with  roads and bridges, public libraries, Social Security, public education, and a  raft of other items. But for those who can’t even see the value in those public  works, we have the teams that worked for a decade, over two administrations, to  get bin Laden. This is what your government does, and it was carried out by  government workers. They deserve thanks—not derision.

By: Susan Milligan, U. S. News and Worl Report, May 9, 2011

May 9, 2011 Posted by | Big Government, Conservatives, Democracy, Foreign Policy, GOP, Ground Zero, Homeland Security, Ideologues, Ideology, Middle East, National Security, Neo-Cons, Pentagon, Politics, President Obama, Public Employees, Republicans, Tea Party, Terrorism, Union Busting, Unions | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Tortured Logic Of Enhanced Interrogation

Did torture work? This is the question everyone is asking after Osama bin Laden’s death and the revelation that his fate was sealed by the identification of a courier whose nom de guerre emerged from the interrogation of top al Qaeda operatives who were known to have been subjected to waterboarding and similar techniques. “Did brutal interrogations produce the intelligence that led to the killing of Osama bin Laden?” a May 3 New York Timesstory asked.

This is hardly the first time we’ve had this debate. In 2006, my team of interrogators in Iraq located local al Qaeda leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi by identifying and following one of his spiritual advisors, Abu Abd al-Rahman. Eric Maddox, a U.S. Army interrogator, found Saddam Husseinby similar means, identifying his former bodyguards. It’s these little pieces of information that form the mosaic that gradually leads to a breakthrough. But how best to get those little pieces?

Current and former U.S. officials and their supporters have been quick to argue that “enhanced interrogation techniques” and waterboarding led to the identification of the courier’s alias, which started U.S. intelligence down the road to bin Laden. The day after the al Qaeda leader’s death was announced, U.S. Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.), the House Homeland Security Committee chair, told Fox News’s Bill O’Reilly that “For those who say that waterboarding doesn’t work, who say it should be stopped and never used again, we got vital information [from waterboarding] that directly led us to bin Laden.” John Yoo, the former U.S. Justice Department official who drafted the George W. Bush administration’s legal rationales for officially sanctioned torture, repeated the claim and praised“Bush’s interrogation and warrantless surveillance programs that produced this week’s actionable intelligence.” The torture bandwagon has started to kick into high gear. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

In fact, the information about the existence of a courier working for bin Laden was provided by several detainees, not just waterboarded al Qaeda operatives Kalid Sheikh Mohammed and Abu Faraj al-Libi — we had one detainee in Iraq who provided information about a courier in 2006. The key pieces of information, however, were the courier’s real name and location. His family name was first uncovered by CIA assets in Pakistan through other sources. The NSA subsequently figured out his full real name and location from an intercepted phone call. Waterboarding had nothing to do with it.

Moreover, common sense dictates that all high-ranking leaders have couriers — and their nicknames do little to lead us to them. This is because many members of al Qaeda change names or take on a nom de guerre after joining for both operational security and cultural reasons. The names are often historically relevant figures in the history of Islam, like the Prophet Mohamed’s first follower, Abu Bakr. Think of it as the equivalent of a boxer taking on a nickname like “The Bruiser.”

Understanding these cultural nuances is just one critical skill interrogators must have to be effective. The other is an understanding of the social science behind interrogations, which tells us that torture has an extremely negative effect on memory. An interrogator needs timely and accurate intelligence information, not just made-up babble.

What torture has proven is exactly what experienced interrogators have said all along: First, when tortured, detainees will give only the minimum amount of information necessary to stop the pain. No interrogator should ever be hoping to extract the least amount of information. Second, under coercion, detainees give misleading information that wastes time and resources — a false nickname, for example. Finally, it’s impossible to know what information the detainee would have disclosed under non-coercive interrogations.

But to understand the question “Does torture work?” one must also define “work.” If we include all the long-term negative consequences of torture, that answer becomes very clear. Those consequences include the fact that torture handed al Qaeda its No. 1 recruiting tool, a fact confirmed by the U.S. Department of Defense’s interrogators in Iraq who questioned foreign fighters about why they had come there to fight. (I have first-hand knowledge of this information because I oversaw many of these interrogations and was briefed on the aggregate results.) In addition, future detainees will be unwilling to cooperate from the onset of an interrogation because they view all Americans as torturers. I heard this repeatedly in Iraq, where some detainees accused us of being the same as the guards at Abu Ghraib.

The more you think about, the less sense torture makes. U.S. allies will become unwilling to conduct joint operations if they are concerned about how detainees will be treated in U.S. custody (an argument made by the 9/11 Commission, among others). And future enemies will use our actions as justification to torture American captives. Torture also lowers our ethical standards to those of our enemies, an ugly shift that spreads like a virus throughout the Armed Services; witness the abuses of Abu Ghraib or the recent murders of civilians in Afghanistan.

Most importantly, we should be talking about the morality of torture, not its efficacy. When the U.S. infantry becomes bogged down in a tough battle, they don’t turn to chemical weapons even though they are extremely effective. The reason they don’t is because such weapons are illegal and immoral.

During the Revolutionary War, one top general made the point that torture was inconsistent with the fundamental beliefs of our founding fathers. “Should any American soldier be so base and infamous as to insure any [prisoner] … I do most earnestly enjoin you to bring him to such severe and exemplary punishment as the enormity of the crime may require,” he wrote to his troops in the Northern Expeditionary Force in the first year of the war. The general in question was George Washington. There’s a reason we pledge to believe in “liberty and justice for all” and not “liberty and security for all”: It’s because we place our values and principles higher than we place our security. When we cease to do so, we forfeit our right to be called Americans.

We cannot become our enemy in trying to defeat him. American interrogators safely guided us through World War II without the use of torture, fighting an enemy and interrogating prisoners every bit as brutal and dedicated as the members of al Qaeda. Our interrogators continue to prove time and time again that they are smart enough to outwit al Qaeda’s best and brightest. No one should ever doubt that we have the mental and ethical fortitude to win this war — and to do it without lowering ourselves to the level of our foes.

By: Matthew Alexander, Foreign Policy, May 4, 2011

May 6, 2011 Posted by | 911, Democracy, Foreign Policy, GITMO, Government, Ground Zero, Homeland Security, Ideology, Middle East, Military Intervention, National Security, Neo-Cons, Pentagon, Politics, President Obama, Right Wing, Terrorism | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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