McCain Goes Ballistic

As the news broke that President Barack Obama was scrapping President George W. Bush's proposal to place missile defense bases with yet-to-be proven technology in Poland and the Czech Republic and moving ahead with a mobile, partly sea-based system using existing technology, Senator John McCain became a leading critic of this decision. He decried Obama's plan—which followed the recommendation of Defense Secretary Robert Gates and the Joint Chiefs of Staff—as "seriously misguided" and called it a cave-in to Vladimir Putin, the Russian leader who had opposed deployment of US missile defense systems in Eastern Europe.

McCain shared his complaint with ABC News:

The President's general-election opponent, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., the ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, told ABC News that he had not been briefed on the announcement, and he wasn't exactly sure he knew what constituted the new more mobile system.

"I haven't heard of it," McCain said. The new system, he added, "is certainly unproven technology."

But unlike the Bush system, which depended on a two-stage ground-based missile that was untested, the new system will be composed of elements already in the field and proven—and McCain should be quite familiar with them.

The core weapons in Obama's missile defense proposal—designed to address regional ballistic missile threats in Europe (mainly a potential attack from Iran), not intercontinental missile attacks—are the sea-based Aegis missile-tracking system and the SM-3 interceptor missile. Both are currently in use on US Navy ships, including a destroyer called—wait for it—the USS John McCain, which was named after the senator's father and grandfather, both admirals. This missile defense system was in the news earlier this year when North Korea was test launching a missile:

"I understand two Aegis destroyers, including USS John McCain, will continue to stay in the East Sea in apparent preparation for the North's missile launch," the [South Korean] official said, asking not to be identified.

USS John McCain is a 9,200-ton Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer, which is equipped with the Aegis combat system that allows it to simultaneously track over 100 targets from more than 190 kilometers.

The destroyer also carries a multiple number of Standard Missile-3 (SM-3), which makes up the backbone of the United  States' naval missile defense or MD system.

The use of the Aegis system and the SM-3 for mid-range missile interception has been extensively discussed by the members of the Senate Armed Services Committee, including McCain. In July Defense Daily reported:

Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) said last month his panel "shifted the emphasis" on missile defense. While it supported Obama's proposed ground-based interceptor curtailments, he said, it also backed the administration's request to increase funding for Standard Missile-3 (SM-3) and Terminal High Altitude Area Defense interceptors, near-term capabilities that counter existing threats to troops in theater.

That article also noted:

The committee did make some tweaks to Obama's missile defense request. For example, its bill proposes reducing by $30 million the administration's $1.7 billion request for the Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense program and its SM-3 interceptor; the SASC believes all of the funds could not be executed. That $1.7 billion [Obama administration] request is a $600 million boost over FY '09 funding.

At a June Senate hearing on missile defense, McCain himself publicly recognized that the Obama administration was heading toward greater reliance on the SM-3 for missile defense: "For some time now, this committee has urged the [Defense] department to increase its focus to rogue state in theater threats and I applaud the [Obama administration's] decision to increase funding for both THAAD and SM-3."

In his remarks to ABC News, McCain made it seem as if Obama's proposal was all new to him and utterly untested. But that's not so. Perhaps the possibility of using these elements for a European-based system was not on McCain's radar screen. But he depicted Obama as proceeding recklessly—when, actually, it was McCain who had gone ballistic.

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With the Senate signaling that it won't pass a cap-and-trade bill this year, the Obama administration is now dropping major hints that UN climate talks—which were supposed to culminate in a new international agreement at Copenhagen in December—will also need to be pushed back to 2010. US climate envoy Todd Stern previously told Congress that climate legislation was crucial for the "credibility and leverage" the Obama administration needed to persuade other countries at Copenhagen to cut their emissions. Yesterday, though, he had lowered his sights considerably: "The mission is to get the most ambitious, most far-reaching accord that we can in Copenhagen, and to the extent that there's some things that need to be completed after that, then that will happen," he told reporters, according to Climate Wire.

While Stern and Energy Secretary Steven Chu have been putting a brave face on the delay, some foreign officials are telling it like it is: "The United States is just one of the 190 countries coming to this Conference. But the United States emits 25 percent of all the greenhouse gases that the Conference is trying to reduce," said the EU's ambassador to Washington, John Bruton, in a statement. "Is the US Senate really expecting all the other countries to make a serious effort on climate change at the Copenhagen Conference in the absence of a clear commitment from the United States?...I submit that asking an international Conference to sit around looking out the window for months, while one chamber of the legislature of one country deals with its other business, is simply not a realistic political position."


Thousands of conservative activists are back in DC again this weekend for the Family Research Council's annual Values Voters Summit, an event that in the past has served as an early test ground for aspiring GOP presidential candidates. True to form this year, many of the GOP luminaries are on the lineup: Indiana Rep. Mike Pence, former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, Mitt Romney, Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty and Texas Gov. Rick Perry. Conspicuously absent from the list, though, is former VP candiate Sarah Palin.

Palin was invited, and her absense is no doubt a huge disappointment to many of the attendees. According to the Washington Times this morning, she skipped the event because her son Track is coming back from Iraq this weekend. Of course, his return won't prevent Palin from jetting off to Hong Kong in a few days for a big paid speaking gig to a group of Chinese investors (which will be closed to the media, incidentally.)

Palin's dissing of the conservative activists seems odd. These are her people, after all. Does this mean she's not going to run for president? I doubt it. More likely Palin realizes that, unlike people like Pence and Pawlenty, the Values Voters already know her. She can afford to take them for granted. Right now, apparently, she's more desperate for Chinese money than the straw-poll votes of a couple hundred die-hards.

"Duty. Honor. Country. Service. Sacrifice. Heroism. These are words of weight. But as people — as a people and as a culture, we often invoke them lightly. We toss them around freely. But do we really grasp the meaning of these values? Do we truly understand the nature of these virtues? To serve, and to sacrifice. Jared Monti knew. The Monti family knows. And they know that the actions we honor today were not a passing moment of courage. They were the culmination of a life of character and commitment." More...

Today's must-reads:

  • Obama scraps Bush's approach to missile defense (NYT)
  • Spencer Ackerman: "The Balance Sheet on the Scrapped Missile Shield" (The Washington Independent)
  • China recovery picking up steam, US still lags (NYT)
  • The White House's weak response to the climate bill delay (MoJo
  • Paul Krugman's latest on the Baucus bill (NYT)
  • Mike Tomasky: Jimmy Carter's no-win talk of racism (The Guardian
  • "The Lessons of Lindsay." (Sports Shooter
  • Obama names ex-lobbyist for Enron-like co. to top regulator post. We expose & explain: (MoJo)
  • Sonia Sotomayor goes after corporate personhood (WSJ)
  • Inmate to testify about the failure of his execution (NYT)
  • How Tim Noah's factual error found its way into Obama's health care speech. (Slate)

I post items like these throughout the day on twitter. You should follow me, of course. David Corn, Mother Jones' DC bureau chief, also tweets. So do my colleagues Daniel Schulman and Rachel Morris and our editors-in-chief, Clara Jeffery and Monika Bauerlein. Follow them, too! (The magazine's main account is @motherjones.)

Tonight, Jews around the world celebrate the dawn of year 5770. Tomorrow night, a lucky few will get to rock out to "Hidden Melodies Revealed," a free, live remix of traditional cantoral music by an indie-rock dream team. 

Jewish religious music, like the religion, is notoriously change-averse, and very few have successfully introduced new tunes to the litergy. The Sway Machinery—consisting of members of Arcade Fire, Balkan Beat Box, Antibalas, and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs—doesn't hope to do that, exactly, but the musicians are planning to introduce the crowd to a radical reimagining of High Holiday cantoral music. The supergroup chose Temple Emanu El in San Francisco, erstwhile home of famed singing rabbi Shlomo Carelbach, to reinvent the sacred music of the past, transforming a purely vocal tradition into a thumping, instrumental celebration of Judiasm's venerated back catalogue. Sway frontman Jeremiah Lockwood of Balkan Beat Box gave us the inside dirt. 

Mother Jones: Saturday is the second night of Rosh Hashanah. What's the significance of playing then?

Jeremiah Lockwood: It's the center of the spiritual cycle of the year. Rosh Hashanah is the big show for the cantor, the time they get to shine, and the whole community gets together. Growing up, my grandfather was a great cantor, and for the last 30 years of his career, he only sang for the High Holy Days. It always seemed to me to be the nexis of all the culture of cantoral music was going towards this one moment. Part of my musical concept for the band is that I was going to take this vocal music tradition and work with the melodies and create instrumental music and rhythmic accompaniment to it. 

A Friday sampling of health, science, and environment news:

No health care for C-section moms: Many insurers won't cover women who have given birth through Cesarean section. Also, women who have suffered domestic abuse.

New CAFE fuel standards: The rules governing fuel economy and carbon emissions for cars are changing. Kevin Drum explains with a handy chart.

Climate bill outlook cloudy: What did the White House have to say for itself about delaying the climate bill? Not much.

Cruisin' for a planetary bruisin': Friends of the Earth graded major cruise lines on their greenness. Are you surprised that none got an A? Now if they were to be graded on weirdness... [Seattle Times]

First lady hits the first farmers' market: Michelle Obama, who for some reason chose to wear a lei to the first White House farmers' market, appears to be perusing the potatoes. [Grist]

India's Big Brother

Is it Big Brother, or a giant leap forward for bureaucratic kind? That's the question plaguing India's plan to assign each of its 1.2 billion citizens a biometric ID card tied both to their government entitlements and their fingerprint or iris scan. Name, birth date and either the finger prints or iris image will eventually appear on the card, which will function a lot like a US Social Security Number. 

If that sounds scary (and to anyone raised on 1984, it certainly does) consider the status-quo: India's bureaucracy is notoriously byzantine, and notoriously tied to paper. Today, there's no single form of identification which can be used uniformly between activities—like voting and receiving welfare benefits, for example—and few that transfer across state lines. Worse, because there is no single system, citizens who lose their paperwork lose not only their records but their entire identity (military history, savings accounts, proof of citizenship) which is a problem if you live in, say, flood-prone Kolkata. Even assuming you could prove your identity, any records would be nearly impossible to find in the piles of paper that fill your average state office. As Amitav Ghosh put it in his 2005 essay on the effects of the tsunami in India: be middle-class, in India or anywhere else, is to be kept afloat on a life-raft of paper: identity cards, licences, ration cards, school certificates, cheque books, certificates of life insurance and receipts for fixed deposits.

The tsunami, in the suddenness of its onslaught, allowed for no preparations: not only did it destroy the survivors' homes and decimate their families; it also robbbed them of their place in the world. 

Supporters say the biometrics program will be a boon for India's poor, who often move between states looking for work. Opponents cite the possiblity for an info-tech disaster that would make Estonia's 2007 hacker nightmare look like child's play. 

For those who hear echoes of Soviet-era internal passports, Indian officials are quick to point out that the cards will not keep any data on the holder's caste or religion. But ideological squabbles aside, there are still major technical hurdles to the project. Whether it gets off the ground at all, and whether other democracies will copy it, remains to be seen. 

It's Laura. Happy Friday! To celebrate, Fiji Water would like to give you a beach towel. Or some free junta-fueling water. Anything, really, if you'll just promise to tweet nicely about them—something people aren't doing after reading the MoJo Fiji Water investigation. Plus: 3 MoJo stories today you might like:

1) Why is GOP pit bull Darrell Issa modeling himself after the Dems' fiercest watchdog, Henry Waxman?

2) What happens when Enron-schooled ex-lobbyists become top energy regulators?

3) Can the drug ecstasy help post-traumatic stress patients confront their fears?

Laura McClure hosts weekly podcasts and is a writer and editor for Mother Jones. Read her recent investigative feature on lifehacking gurus here.

"Both Parties"

Here's the fascinating lead in today's Washington Post story about healthcare reform:

Lawmakers in both parties raised concerns Thursday that the health-care reform bill offered by Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus a day earlier would impose too high a cost on middle-class Americans and said they will seek to change the legislation to ease that potential burden.

Italics mine.  Technically, this is true: apparently Olympia Snowe would like to increase subsidies to middle-income families above the level in Baucus's draft bill.  So that's one.  But the only other Republican even mentioned in this story is Chuck Grassley, who is suggesting "government assistance to insurance companies" to help them lower premium costs.

That's evidently the basis of the claim that "both parties" are concerned about the cost of healthcare insurance to middle class workers.  One Republican senator.  And a second who thinks insurance companies could use a little extra help.  Somebody shoot me now.