Tuesday, September 11, 2018
By Greg Sargent
In short: If Democrats do take back some or all of Congress, they’re going to have a lot of cleaning up to do. And while it’s tempting to think that all this means is exercising the oversight on President Trump that Republicans have not, it’s not that simple.
The piece — which is by Kris Kolesnik, who toiled on GOP oversight staff for nearly 20 years — flatly accuses the current GOP of the “downright destruction” of Congress’ oversight functions. It flays Republicans over the weaknesses of the Senate’s examination of Russian electoral sabotage, and the conversion of the House’s probe into a full blown harassment campaign aimed at law enforcement’s legitimate and independent Russia investigation.
But there would be a lot more beyond this to be done when it comes to restoring Congress’ institutional oversight integrity. Congressional scholar Norman Ornstein suggested to me today that it’s crucial that in restoring oversight, it “can’t just be the gotcha kind.” This means looking not just at media-friendly topics such as Russia and Trump’s tax returns, but also at failures of governance. As Ornstein put it, if Democrats take power, they must “look at mismanagement and malfeasance in programs and agencies,” that is, at “what went wrong and why.” There are some obvious candidates for this. Real oversight might examine the governmental response to Hurricane Maria and the shockingly high death toll that may have resulted in part from it. There is a lot to examine on immigration, too. Many of Trump’s immigration policies, from the thinly-veiled Muslim ban to the slashing of refugee flows, were implemented amid a bad faith refusal to take into account internal administration analyses that undercut their rationales. The administration proceeded with family separations after being warned by officials that they could result in psychological trauma to immigrant children. The governing processes behind these things could use a lot more sunlight.
Speaking of the family separations, Ornstein also suggests another area ripe for more congressional examination: The huge private industry in sheltering migrant children, which is fueled by government contracts. Democrats should “examine those contracts and how they came about,” Ornstein says. But Ornstein also called for a much broader look into privatizing in other areas, such as private prisons, arguing that Democrats must make a major priority out of “oversight of the relationship between government agencies and the private contractors.”
On another front, the sheer volume and nature of the administration’s efforts to undermine Obamacare also suggest a level of bad faith in implementation of the law that is crying out for some serious scrutiny.
In short, if Democrats can win some control, there will be a lot to do — well beyond Russia and Trump’s finances.
Democratic leaders must “lay out an agenda of oversight, all these things, for the public and say, ‘Here’s what we’re going to do,'” Ornstein says, adding that the message from Democrats to the American people should be: “We may not be able to get laws passed, but what we can do is make sure the programs you’re paying for are being faithfully executed.”
By Joe Quinn
I went to war to avenge my brother’s death. But the only person I truly wanted to kill died 17 years ago.
It has taken me a while to realize something.
Seventeen years ago, I saw a picture of Mohamed Atta for the first time, and my blood boiled from the sound of his voice emanating from the television, as he said over the airplane’s intercom system: “We have some planes, just stay quiet and you’ll be O.K. We are returning to the airport.” Instead, he crashed it between the 93rd and 99th floors of the World Trade Center’s north tower.
My 23-year-old brother, James, was on the 102nd floor.
Staring at that picture of Atta, I would have visions of what my brother’s final moments were like. I would envision my asthmatic brother slowly succumbing to smoke inhalation on the flat, gray corporate rug of his Cantor Fitzgerald office — trapped, climbing upward and afraid for the entire 102 minutes before the tower’s collapse. Glaring at Atta’s photo, I’d imagine my brother’s body buckling, falling, crumpling, burning, melting, and in that moment of imagination, my entire being wanted revenge against the people who did this.
So I joined the Army.
I joined the war. I deployed twice to Iraq and once to Afghanistan.
I learned many things but realized just one.
I learned that deploying for the second time was easier than the first, but each time it’s harder to fully come home.
I learned that I love soldiers. Nothing builds bonds more than living with a group of people in a war zone, getting shot at, not showering for months, roasting our own excrement in burn pits, cracking inappropriate jokes and serving something greater than ourselves.
I also learned how that love turns to heartache when one of those soldiers gets killed, and you pack his gear up in duffel bags to be shipped home to his wife and unborn child. I learned that another family’s losing a brother doesn’t bring my brother back.
But that wasn’t the thing I realized.
In Afghanistan, after an Afghan police officer demanded money from me at gunpoint to get through a checkpoint, I learned of the Kabul government’s widespread corruption. I learned that spending $68 billion on Afghan forces doesn’t buy the essential ingredients of a fighting force: loyalty, courage and integrity. I learned that most generals would always ask for more money, more troops, more time — and more war. It’s like asking Tom Brady what he wants to do on Sunday.
I learned that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. For the past 17 years in Afghanistan, we’ve tried everything: a light footprint, a big footprint, conventional war, counterinsurgency, counter-corruption, surges, drawdowns.
But that wasn’t the thing I realized.
I also learned that those who made the ultimate sacrifice are the very best of America.