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“New Revelations Pose A Problem For ‘No-Show Rubio'”: A History Of Regularly Failing To Show Up For Work

For pundits, Marco Rubio’s record of not showing up for work has already been dismissed as campaign trivia. For months, the senator’s critics have highlighted Rubio’s history of skipping key votes, important briefings, and committee hearings, and for months, much of the political establishment has been inclined to blow off the issue.

But the Washington Post published a report yesterday that should encourage pundits to take a fresh look at the controversy.

In the anxious weeks after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the Florida House hurriedly assembled an elite group of lawmakers to develop plans to keep the state safe.

A spot on the Select Committee on Security was a mark of prominence in Tallahassee. Some of the airplane hijackers had acquired Florida driver’s licenses and trained at flight schools in the state, and legislators lobbied furiously behind the scenes in hopes of being named to the 12-member panel tasked with addressing the state’s newly exposed vulnerabilities.

Among them was a young Republican by the name of Marco Rubio, seen as a rising star in Florida GOP circles at the time, who sought and received one of the coveted slots. It was a rare opportunity for the GOP lawmaker to not only tackle the substance of a major issue, but also earn some credibility.

It really didn’t go well. The Washington Post reported that Rubio “skipped nearly half of the meetings over the first five months of the panel’s existence, more than any of his colleagues.” He also “missed hours of expert testimony and was absent for more than 20 votes.”

In one notable incident, Rubio arrived late for a debate, missed some expert testimony, made a passionate argument against the proposal under consideration, quickly realized his points lacked merit, and then voted for the measure he’d just criticized.

At another point, the article added, Rubio’s indifference to his duties prompted then-State House Speaker Tom Feeney (R-Fla.), who agreed to reward Rubio with the sought after assignment, to “express concern.”

Lately, when asked about his poor attendance habits, Rubio routinely points to the busy schedule of a presidential candidate. But in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, Rubio was just a regular ol’ state lawmaker, who had far fewer pressures on his schedule. He nevertheless regularly failed to show up for work.

Making matters slightly worse, this article coincides with a new report from the Tampa Bay Times, which noted that Rubio points to his tenure on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee as evidence of his White House qualifications, but a closer look suggests that’s probably not a good idea, given that the evidence ”paints a bleak picture of participation in the day-to-day responsibilities of the job.”

Rubio is on the Foreign Relations, Intelligence, Commerce and Small Business and Entrepreneurship committees. The Florida Republican has missed 68 percent of hearings, or 407 of 598 for which records were available.

His skipped 80 percent of Commerce hearings and 85 percent of those held by Small Business, records show.

He has missed 60 percent of Foreign Relations hearings since joining the Senate despite making his committee experience a centerpiece of his qualifications for president.

He attended 68 percent of Intelligence Committee meetings, though he has drawn criticism for missing high-profile ones, such as a briefing on the Paris terror attacks.

The argument from Rubio and his supporters is that he’s a presidential candidate, and it’s expected that senators on the national campaign trail are going to have a much lower profile on Capitol Hill. Maybe so. But the Tampa Bay Times’ analysis started with Rubio’s arrival in the Senate five years ago and ends in November 2015 – months before the official launch of his presidential bid.

The picture that emerges is that of a young man in a hurry, who’s eager for a promotion without having done much to deserve one.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, February 19, 2016

February 20, 2016 Posted by | Florida Legislature, Marco Rubio, Senate | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Whose Values Did The Torture Program Uphold?”: We Can Press For Those Responsible To Be Held Accountable

Who are we?

That’s one question begged by the Senate Intelligence Committee report on the CIA’s torture of detainees after Sept. 11. There are other questions, but this may be the key one. And it is getting harder to answer.

“That’s not who we are,” President Barack Obama declared of the abusive pressure tactics used by American interrogators on detainees in foreign holding tanks, supposedly to extract information about terror plots. But some of those seem so gratuitously abhorrent, it’s a stretch to even call them interrogations. Where is the interrogation component of force-feeding people their meals rectally? How much valid information could you get on the 17th day of one long, round-the-clock interrogation? What investigatory purpose is served by leaving a prisoner naked until he dies of hypothermia?

Politicians may quibble over the semantics of the practices and the politics of the report’s release, just before Democrats lose control of the Senate. Apologists for the program, both from the Bush administration and the CIA, reject the word “torture.” Former Vice President Dick Cheney goes so far as to call the 6,300-page report “full of c–p,” even as he acknowledges no authorization was given for rectal force-feeding. Call it what you want, but when the purpose is to terrify, degrade, in some cases bring people convicted of no crime to the brink of death, and leave them emotionally and physically broken down, one can only hope those tactics would be anathema to most Americans.

Elected leaders, including Obama, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, whose committee brought out the report, and Republican Sen. John McCain, who knows torture first-hand, believe its release will show the world, as Feinstein said, “that we are in fact a just and lawful society.” McCain said Americans need to know “when the values that define our nation are intentionally disregarded by our security policies.”

Whose values did the program uphold — The CIA’s? The Bush administration’s? That’s hard to answer since the report doesn’t look at individual culpability. Cheney’s justifications aside, the CIA did not inform the administration or get approval for some measures. On the other hand, secret legal memos sent by the Bush administration set forth a covert CIA program abroad to conduct such interrogations. Officials claimed an anti-torture treaty only applied inside the U.S. And though one of Obama’s first acts in office was to ban those practices, even Obama officials reportedly considered upholding the interpretation.

So, who are we? Are there two different sets of American values to employ selectively, according to circumstances? Was the CIA satisfying itself that the ends justify the means, even though those harsh techniques were of little ultimate value in capturing Osama bin Laden? Did agents grow oblivious to the boundary lines and become dehumanized like the Abu Ghraib captors, rogue elements with enough power to abuse? Or were they opportunists like James Mitchell, the Florida psychologist who designed and implemented the program with his partner for a cool $80 million, though never schooled in the mindset or tactics of al-Qaida?

Now that this has happened, can we still claim to have those shared values in the rule of law? Can we still claim the moral authority to condemn human rights violations in Yemen or North Korea? Even though we braced for global fallout from the report, knowledge of our abhorrent interrogation practices have already contributed to terrorist recruitment efforts, even of U.S. citizens.

Americans are not unique. Like everyone, whether we do bad or good depends largely on the cues we get from our environments. Those who lack faith that the system treats everyone equally might not see a need to play by the rules. Much has been made, for instance, of the looting and rioting in the wake of a Ferguson grand jury’s failure to indict a white police officer for the fatal shooting of an unarmed young black man. Without revisiting the merits of that case or justifying the behavior, there was clearly an element of nihilism that didn’t spring from bad upbringings, as some people have claimed. It reflected a lack of belief that justice is for all. So hold the looters responsible but in the long run, let’s make sure our police forces, prosecutors and courts model the rules of fair play.

We Americans can’t change what took place in our names in secret faraway holding pens, but we can press for those responsible to be held accountable. We can vow not to let it happen again on our watch. We can use our votes and our voices to assert our common values when our leaders sometimes seem to have lost their way.

Who are we? We are the voters and the taxpayers, the office-seekers and marchers and peaceful protesters, guided by an enlightened Constitution, a belief in doing what is right and a democracy that demands our engagement.

 

By: Rekha Basu, Columnist for the Des Moines Register; The National Memo, December 17, 2014

December 18, 2014 Posted by | Bush-Cheney Administration, Rule of Law, Torture | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Will We Torture Again?”: The Willingness To Face An Ugly Truth And Say ‘Never Again’

Can we now say with confidence that our government will not use torture again and that Americans in the future will rise up to prevent it from doing so? In light of the reaction to the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report, I fear that we can’t.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein persisted in releasing the document in the face of opposition from the CIA and attacks by some of her colleagues because she felt a moral calling. The 81-year-old California Democrat believed she had an obligation to leave behind a sturdy ethical roadblock to the use of extreme brutality in pursuit of information — even information seen as potentially saving American lives.

“There are those who will seize upon the report and say ‘see what the Americans did,’ and they will try to use it to justify evil actions or incite more violence,” she said on the Senate floor. “We can’t prevent that. But history will judge us by our commitment to a just society governed by law and the willingness to face an ugly truth and say ‘never again.’”

Yet what might have been a moment of national reflection immediately turned into what everything becomes these days: a carnival of partisanship. Making the truth public, Feinstein’s critics argued, could endanger our nation.

“She will have to live with the consequences,” Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC), who becomes chair of the Intelligence Committee next year, said darkly.

A moving exception was Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), who has denounced torture in season and out. His biography as a prisoner of war has been a standing rebuke to those who choose to play down the consequences of these techniques for our own men and women in uniform. He dismissed the idea that the report itself would be responsible for new attacks on Americans. “Violence needs little incentive in some quarters of the world,” he said. Terrorism should be blamed on terrorists, not Feinstein.

The real objection to the release of the report, McCain argued, was that it calls into question the claims by defenders of these techniques that they produced vital information. “We gave up much in the expectation that torture would make us safer,” he said. “Too much.”

One would like to think that this is now a consensual view, and it is the formal position of our government. But the pushback against Feinstein makes clear that many involved in “the program,” as they so delicately call this departure from our own norms, would do it all over again. John McLaughlin, former CIA acting director and deputy director, took to the pages of The Washington Post to list the intelligence breakthroughs of the interrogators. McLaughlin also joined with five other former CIA directors and deputy directors in a Wall Street Journal piece that denounced the Senate report as “a poorly done and partisan attack.”

But condemning the report as “partisan” is a way of evading its implications. If the issue is partisan, why did President Obama’s CIA director, John Brennan, defend the agency by declaring that “EITs” — that would be enhanced interrogation techniques — “did produce intelligence that helped thwart attack plans, capture terrorists, and save lives”? What’s striking here is the bipartisan unity among intelligence officials.

My friend and Washington Post colleague Michael Gerson saw partisanship in the committee’s focus on the CIA interrogations that took place under President George W. Bush, but not on the drone program, which Obama has embraced and expanded. Gerson is right to note that many who oppose torture are also concerned about the extensiveness of the drone program and I, for one, would have no objection to Congress investigating the ethical and practical problems it raises.

But legitimate questions about drones do not discredit either this legitimate inquiry into the use of torture or the obligation that Feinstein and her fellow committee Democrats felt to bear witness.

Defenders of the CIA make a point that should unsettle all of us because it’s true: In the wake of 9/11, the country was so scared that it tolerated or at least entertained a variety of extreme steps to protect our security, including torture. By November of 2001, there was already a public debate about the legitimacy of torture, even if brave voices (the blogger Andrew Sullivan has been admirably persistent) pushed back in those dark times.

Feinstein, McCain and their allies are hoping they can draw a line now that can strengthen such voices in the future. I wish that the response to their efforts inspired more certainty that their line will hold.

 

By: E. J. Dionne, Jr., Opinion Writer, The Washington Post; Published in The National Memo, December 11, 2014

December 13, 2014 Posted by | CIA, Diane Feinstein, Torture | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Macho Chest-Thumping Myth”: Sorry, Dick Cheney, Torture Doesn’t Work

I’ve written a couple posts now predicting that a Senate report on the CIA’s interrogation practices during the Bush years would show that the CIA’s foray into torture just didn’t work. Also, that the CIA lied about the effectiveness of waterboarding and other controversial techniques. Now we have a test of that prediction — not the Intelligence Committee report itself, which is still under wraps, but a bombshell in the Washington Post that quotes people with firsthand knowledge of the report. Lo and behold:

A report by the Senate Intelligence Committee concludes that the CIA misled the government and the public about aspects of its brutal interrogation program for years — concealing details about the severity of its methods, overstating the significance of plots and prisoners, and taking credit for critical pieces of intelligence that detainees had in fact surrendered before they were subjected to harsh techniques.

The report, built around detailed chronologies of dozens of CIA detainees, documents a long-standing pattern of unsubstantiated claims as agency officials sought permission to use — and later tried to defend — excruciating interrogation methods that yielded little, if any, significant intelligence, according to U.S. officials who have reviewed the document.

“The CIA described [its program] repeatedly both to the Department of Justice and eventually to Congress as getting unique, otherwise unobtainable intelligence that helped disrupt terrorist plots and save thousands of lives,” said one U.S. official briefed on the report. “Was that actually true? The answer is no.”

Importantly, the Senate report apparently also recommends no prosecution for these war crimes. That’s depressing, if not very surprising.

You might be wondering: How was I so prescient? In fact, I deserve no credit: that torture during the Bush era yielded no valuable intelligence was completely obvious from the beginning, despite what Dick Cheney might have you believe. All you had to do was pay attention to people who have studied torture carefully. Darius Rejali, a professor at Reed College, did just that in his masterpiece Torture and Democracy (see here and here). Rejali found that torture is good for two things: intimidation and extracting false confessions. As an intelligence-gathering mechanism, it’s much worse than worthless. You get no good intelligence, while what you do get is decidedly bad, including a corrosion of the legitimacy of security agencies and a weakening of the foundation of liberal democracy itself.

Micah Zenko makes a good point that the major issue when it comes to torture is that it is blatantly illegal, immoral, and unethical. He’s right that the rule of law — not to mention basic decency — ought to land every torturer in federal prison.

But it would be a mistake to ignore the fact that it is also ineffective. The ethos of the Bush-era CIA was “know-nothingism,” as Paul Krugman put it at The New York Times, “the insistence that there are simple, brute-force, instant-gratification answers to every problem, and that there’s something effeminate and weak about anyone who suggests otherwise.” These national security officials see themselves as the hard-headed tough guys who won’t let the pathetic moral qualms of liberal cowards keep them from doing the dirty work that keeps us safe. (This is a real-life version of Jack Nicholson’s famous “You can’t handle the truth!” scene in A Few Good Men.) Breaking the law, then, is a Badge of Seriousness, of a willingness to do what is necessary no matter the cost.

It’s critically important, therefore, to break forever this macho chest-thumping myth. Anyone who advocates torture shouldn’t be met only with moral condemnation, but also contemptuous jeers for being such a naive dupe. The members of the CIA torture cabal aren’t tough. They aren’t keeping us safe. They are a pack of incompetents who don’t know what they’re doing.

 

By: Ryan Cooper, The Week, April 1, 2014

April 2, 2014 Posted by | CIA, Dick Cheney, Torture | , , , , | Leave a comment

“We’re Not In Kansas Anymore”: The Yellow Brick Road Ends Inside The Beltway

There are some common political criticisms that get tossed around anytime a congressional incumbent has been in office for many years. His or her detractors will say the incumbent has become a “Washington insider” who’s “lost touch” with regular folks back home.

Sometimes the attacks have merit; sometimes they’re just lazy cliches. But as a rule, when incumbents no longer live in the state they represent, they open the door to awkward questions about whether their constituents are actually their neighbors. Today, for example, Jonathan Martin reports on Republican Sen. Pat Roberts, who represents the state of Kansas.

It is hard to find anyone who has seen Senator Pat Roberts here [in Dodge City, Kansas] at the redbrick house on a golf course that his voter registration lists as his home. Across town at the Inn Pancake House on Wyatt Earp Boulevard, breakfast regulars say the Republican senator is a virtual stranger.

“He calls it home,” said Jerald Miller, a retiree. “But I’ve been here since ‘77, and I’ve only seen him twice.”

The 77-year-old senator went to Congress in 1981 and became a fixture: a member of the elite Alfalfa Club and the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, which made him a regular on the Sunday talk shows. His wife became a real estate broker in Alexandria, Va., the suburb where the couple live, boasting of her “extensive knowledge” of the area.

The Kansas senator used to live in Kansas. He also had a rental property he’d leased to tenants. But Roberts gave all that up when he effectively moved inside the Beltway.

After 35 years in Congress, the Republican now uses the home of a campaign contributor as his main address. [Update: the senator responds below.]

It’s hard to say what kind of effect this might have on Roberts’ re-election campaign – he faces an underfunded and largely unknown primary opponent, and no Democratic challenger – but other candidates have struggled after similar revelations.

In 2006, for example, Rick Santorum and his family had effectively moved full time to Virginia, a fact that may have contributed to his landslide defeat in Pennsylvania. More recently, in 2012, Richard Lugar lost a GOP primary in Indiana to a challenger who took advantage of the fact that the senator no longer owned a home in the state.

Long-time campaign observers may recall that by the mid-’90s, Kansas’ Bob Dole didn’t own a home in his “home state,” either, and locals didn’t seem to mind too much that the long-time lawmaker had become a fixture of Washington, D.C. But Kansas Republicans also used to have a great tradition of moderation, which has gradually been crushed by the far-right.

Update: I heard from Sen. Roberts’ communications director, Sarah Little, who referred me to this press release published this afternoon. It argues that the senator owns a home in Kansas; the New York Times reporter has “an agenda”; and the article from Martin is ”so slanted and so far from the truth that Kansans will not take it seriously.”

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, February 7, 2014

February 9, 2014 Posted by | Politics, Republicans | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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