tv Tavis Smiley PBS December 16, 2014 11:30pm-12:01am EST
good evening from los angeles. i'm tavis smiley. tonight a conversation with senator carl levin of michigan who at the end of this month wraps up 36 years in the u.s. senate. he is the outgoing chair of the armed services committee as well as chair of the permanent subcommittee on investigations. we'll get his assessment on the senate intelligence committee's report on torture, the passage of the controversial spending bill and so much more. we're glad you've joined us. a conversation with carl levin coming up right now. ♪
and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. for 36 years senator carl levin has represented the people of michigan including as chairman of the senate armed services committee and the permanent subcommittee on investigations. he retires at the end of this year, and he joins us now one last time from the nation's capitol. senator levin, good to have you back on this program, sir. >> good to be with you, tavis. >> i want to talk in a moment about this 36-year tenure and what you make of it as you look back on it, and for that matter what you make of america as you look forward to the future. but let me start with the news of the day, obviously.
this report about torture, your thoughts. >> well, what it describes is a disgraceful chapter in our history when torture was not only used and there's no doubt i think in fair-minded person's mind that waterboarding, for instance, is torture, but it was justified by the bush administration and their lawyers. i think john mccain who is a victim of torture said it as well as anybody can possibly say it, and that is that this is not what america is supposed to be about. it produces, most of the time, useless intelligence. and this report shows that we don't know of any case where the intelligence that torture led to produced useful intelligence that wasn't available already in other ways. so there's all kinds of reasons for us to absolutely not use torture, and one of them, by the way, which i should mention very, very strongly since i'm chairman of the armed services
committee is that when we use torture, waterboarding, it jeopardizes our own troops, and that's why our top uniform leaders i think uniformly strongly oppose the use of things like waterboarding. >> and yet if i'm to believe or read the signals that are coming out of the white house this evening, it appears that once again, while everyone agrees that something here went horribly wrong, no one's going to get punished. how should the american people take that? >> let down. as far as i'm concerned, we all should be let down by the use of these tactics which, again, produce unreliable information, violate our values, jeopardize our troops, and so we all should be let down that there was almost no accountability here. >> there has been no accountability, but that doesn't mean there can't be. why can't there be accountability going forward? why is it, again, always the powerful, the elite never seem to pay the price, you know, that
people -- everyday people in the streets of america pay if they get caught committing a crime? >> well, that's a decision made by the justice department and by prosecutors. congress has a responsibility to do the oversight which took us years and years and years of battling with the cia here. i give a lot of credit to chairman feinstein, dianne feinstein had a long, long fight on her hands. all of us on the committee, all democrats on the committee, supported her. we had hoped that it would be more than john mccain, but that wasn't to be. >> how do you think the white house is, in fact, handling this? the president very clearly is walking the tightrope here on the one hand, trying to support the work of the cia while condemning these tactics. i don't know how one does that, but what do you make of the strategy coming out of the white house so far? >> oh, i don't think it is a strategy which works, frankly. that you can't condemn torture
on the one hand and condemn waterboarding on the one hand and say no more waterboarding. no more torture by our country. and on the other hand, just find a way to somehow or another excuse or avoid reaching judgment on the people who did it. so i don't think it's either a consistent strategy or credible strategy on the part of the white house in this regard. they did finally work out a way in which some of the redactions, so-called, in the report could be reduced from what they started out. the cia wanted to cover up much of the report. too much of it is left redacted or covered up, blocked over. but nonetheless, the white house, i think, at least took some steps in terms of letting more of that report become public, but not nearly enough steps. and in terms of trying to have
it both ways by not holding accountable and somehow or another letting off the hook the people that ran the show at the same time they condemned the procedure to me doesn't work. it's not credible. >> should john brennan, the cia director, step down? there are folks tonight calling for his resignation. again, the president trying to stand behind his man, as it were. but should mr. brennan be asked to step down? >> well, i lost confidence in him a long time ago, frankly. i think he's not been forthright with congress. i think that he's been able to hide his own activities, his own role including the way in which the cia broke into the computer which was given to the intelligence committee of the u.s. senate for its use, and we've never had a statement from mr. brennan as to did he know about it, and when did he know about it? he stonewalled that, so i lost confidence in him sometime ago.
i tried literally for years to get the cia to make available to the american public a certain cable which came before the war against iraq from our embassy in prague, which is a pretty devastating cable. it's still classified, so i can't talk much about it here. even dave petraeus when he was there said cia would not declassify that cable. there's no justification for keeping it classified. because the folks in the czech republic in prague where the event took place have no objection to it being declassified, but still, they are stonewalling it. the cia releasing a cable which shines a very significant spotlight on the bush misleading statements prior to the iraq war when they alleged that there was a connection between the people who attacked us on 9/11 and saddam hussein when there was no
such connection. >> you mentioned a moment ago that you lost long ago confidence in john brennan, formerly of the obama white house. but i wonder what you think these revelations do to our credibility, to our standing around the world? as you know, there have argued that simply because our enemies are going to use this to attack us and to use this to stir up more anti-american hate around the world, as if a report they need like this to do that, but that's the argument. they're going to use to come at us in the coming months and years. what do you think of that, and moreover, what do you think these revelations do to our standing, whatever that is around the world? >> well, the substance is fairly well known. the world knew that we engaged in these activities. and of course, when it comes to isis, it doesn't take these kind of revelations to give them any kind of drive to do the horrific
things that they're doing. i mean, they're cutting people's heads off long before this head came out. so they may try to use this as additional fodder for their propaganda machine. but that's not at all credible since they were committing terrorist acts for years and years before this report came out. in terms of credibility, i think it's really important that america take care of cleaning its own house when it needs to be cleaned. we have some credibility in the world for being able to at least acknowledge when we do things. we hopefully don't lie. we hopefully don't mislead, deceive. hopefully we'll never for tour again. but when we make mistakes, it may take a long time. but one way or another, we find ways to bring the truth out. sometimes it's the congress, in this case of many years, but nonetheless, we were finally able to do it. many a times it's the media that
is able to shine a spotlight on wrongdoing and on bad and horrific sometimes wasteful actions, wasteful expenditures. i think we're being given credit for an open society, and somehow or another finding a way to show what the facts were and not to allow cover-ups to last forever, at least. >> let me shift from the international to the domestic, specifically to your home state of michigan. you represented michigan in the senate now for 36 years. of course, that's in the heart of that great state is a wonderful renaissance city called detroit. detroit has had a rough go of it for quite some time now. you leave the senate at least on a high note. detroit is finally out of bankruptcy. give us a sense of what detroit has been through and what you think this great american city is, senator levin? >> it's clearly on its way back. i say that as somebody who was born and raised in detroit.
i was a local official there before eight years before i came to the u.s. senate, so i know my hometown. and it obviously comes in very tough times. i just -- i'm now very, very confident that even before the bankruptcy or coming out of the bankruptcy that detroit was on its way back, there's a huge amount of entrepreneurial spirit that's going on. we've got great philanthropies going on, thousands of young people who had either lived out of the city are now moving into the city. there's a long wait, as a matter of fact, for condos. the activity particularly in the so-called midtown area is very, very strong. we're building a new street railway that's going to help. the riverfront, we've got a fabulous riverfront and a riverwalk. we've got institutions like wayne university and the art institute and many other things that give us real promise. so our town's coming back. >> what are the lessons you
think that other american cities ought to take from detroit? and i ask that, as you well know, because there are other cities that are on the brink of experiencing the same thing detroit experienced. cities are in trouble. in this country. what are the takeaways at this point from what detroit has gone through, do you think? >> well, hopefully you have some people there who care about the city. we've got some businesspeople who are really amazing. the light railway project i mentioned is funded in the first phase totally by private money. you've got to be a little bit lucky to have people who believe in you, some angels. you've got to work with whatever materials that you've got, whatever pillars and strength you have in your community, you've got to keep them as strong as you can. while people overcome some of the biases that have existed, which you've heard our cities, some of the racism that existed and still does that has hurt our
cities. some of the white flight that has hurt our cities, our inner cities. but as we overcome that and as our younger generation particularly is able to overcome some of the divisions and biases involving race or gender and other things, strengthen those pillars. every city's got them. and young people are, more and more, i believe, and in some cities already have, want to move back to kind of where the social activities are. the sports activities are. the entrepreneurial activities are. the culture. there's a lot of things that the urban area is able to offer people, that just is not available in the areas that are more spread out. >> let me talk now about your career. 36 years, carl levin has served in the u.s. senate. as i mentioned earlier, representing the state of michigan. and you mentioned students, young people. you mentioned specifically young folk who want to come back to
detroit. they're living in urban areas all across the country. it is well known, senator, that student loan debt now exceeds credit card debt, and that's the damning indictment, i think, on our country that student loan debt. i raise that because let's go back 36 years. the very first bill that you introduced in the senate was a bill to go after credit card companies for their activities for their behavior. what do you make of the fact that you introduced a bill to go after credit card companies 36 years ago and 36 years later, we are still in this fight with these credit card companies and other institutions that really treat the consumer a bit unfairly. we now have a consumer protection bureau. but what do you make of that bill 36 years ago is this? >> well, the reason i introduced that bill is because when i was president of city council just before i got here, ran for office. credit cards.
they hit the neighborhood that had large numbers of african-american people in it, but poor people who were treated not based on their own credit worthiness but the geography of where they lived and the zip code. that meant they were -- >> i think the credit card companies said "stop doing that." we also saw other abuses by credit card companies about ten years ago which my subcommittee on investigations had a great hearing on and we passed credit card reform. the kind of question that you identify in question about the student loan debt. this is -- the problem here is the interest rates which were being charged to students when they took out these loans particularly who were so high that they're now just unaffordable to pay these off. and people are leaving our
colleges and universities with these huge debts. as a matter of fact, a lot of people are not even going to the university because of the prospect of having a huge indebtedness when they leave. what we've got to do is to find a way to refinance these college loans which have these huge interest rate payment just like we are featuring some of the mortgages, which unless they refinance, they're going to see far and far more foreclosures. >> one of the things she's been mentioning about, along with others, as you well know, over the past weekend is this rollback of dodd/frank. it certainly seemed to take a long time that would get, and now we see this trillion dollar in the house, then over the weekend in the senate, we see a
rollback of dodd/frank. again i ask what should the american people think of that? >> they should think that the wall street panics have too much power. and if they do think that way, you're right. it took a long time to get those reports. the large banks that didn't want to have a company. they were based on bad mortgages and then were secured and sold mention funds. then when the mortgage or car payments, we saw all kinds of foreclosure. that helped to produce the recession. and so the american people should ask all their senators and house members is how is it that you allow dodd/frank to be
repealed without even hearing, without even a bill being introduced which would be passed by either side. it has no place in any event since it's an authorization since it's separately legislated. and people want to ask questions about the power of the banks. these are the big banks that we're talking about here. they were able to get the repreel which was aimed at protecti protecting big costs. any of these large banks bet the wrong way, we've got to bail them out. if we didn't bail them out, the whole economy would be damaged. so we repealed. not with my vote but nnls was recently repealed. the provision right at the top
of it said this provision is to end the hair, with apparently one of the big banks even writing the language for that amendment. >> this issue divided the caucus and america us mariota. i mentioned maxine waters, but a number of democrats, nancy pelosi for that matter, they're making phone calls to get elm dids lined up to support this. we're doing that because it was going to lead to a local/back to a few weeks ago what happened at midterms. you're leaving now, but what do you make of your caucus as you leave? >> well, the people that voted
for the bill didn't vote for this provision. they decided it was a bill to see that it was a ream position. if they voted no like i does it the to vote and if a majority know, then he would have had the government play. i'm not critical of the position. they should have been in position to where to do it. i think when people ended up voting for this bill, noon this is what the people were voted for were put in. i'm critical by this process costs you the number one in that
lu and said how do we allow this. that's what we need is that political accountability. >> what do you say to your party as you leave the senate later this year -- later this month, i should say. what do you say to your democratic party? >> i think actually that the party is -- fight is in a moving in a way to particularly focus on income gab which is one of the big challenges of this country and is really behind one of the problems we've had. we've seen a wealthy grab, both of those -- those groups, some of the wealthiest individuals and the most loopholes and the tax code which allow him to stop paying taxes. middle-income folks have been squeezed and find himself a
position and is going down, down, down in terms of income. that is not a credible. it's not a fair. it's not the kind of -- i know most members of my pir-- don't serve in an economic skin purchase. they're allowing individuals to move their property to avoid paying taxes. i look forward to my party being much stronger on that issue than we have. and some of the toes we're going to step on are going to be some of the toes that when you step on them, are not going to be happy about it. they're some of the big progr s progresses. we've got to change the direction of the economy, both in terms of we need more
good-paying jobs created, but we've also got to close those -- just totally unjustifiable tax loopholes which has helped create a growing level in this country. stop these corporations from opening up shell corporations in these tax havens in order to. these kinds of issues next year we' whether we're willing to fight even though we take on some very, very powerful interests in order to do so. >> you've done this for 36 years as you look back on your career, now back to a close. senator levin, what is your proudest moment in the u.s. senate? >> well, i try to avoid identifying one. i just feel that i don't want -- i don't feel comfortable doing that. if i'm out of here for a short
period of time, i'll let others make that assessment rather than me. but i'm optimistic, actually. i've always been optimistic about the country, and i'm optimistic about this next election. i think if, if our candidates are willing to take on some of the most which have created this situation where you have a tax on fairness. the middle-income people are slipping. and at the same time. we were only the group that has gaped. i think it's either they're going to find a few republicans may join them. that's what most of the people in this, that middle-income family, that average family that's really been spewed. it's such an optimistic. i think we may pick up a few
republicans. i hope so. in any event, going into the next election, i mope our candidate will show that kind of fight. >> "time" magazine calling him one of the ten best senators. in the cap hole, short on valor, levin's performance, command and respect after 36 years. carl levin leaving the united states senate leaving the great state of michigan. i'm delighted to have the chance. thank you and best of luck in the coming months and years, sir. >> thanks for having us. >> that's our show. thanks for watching tonight, and as always, keep the faith. >> announcer: for more information on today's show, visit tavissmiley at pbs.org. hi, i'm tavis smiley, join me for a conversation with oscar winner angelina jolie on her new movie "unbroken." that's next time. we'll see you then. ♪
. >> rose: welcome to the program, tonight, george osborne, the chancellor exchequer of great britain talks about economic progress in his country and looks at the global economy. >> what a motivator he is to correct an economy where people were previously unemployed, people who previously did not have great opportunities in life now have jobs, now have opportunities, and where i do challenge my critics is over this issue of whether it is better to pay people to be out of work or generous entitlements of reform the entitlements -- >> but in order to do that you have to go through a number of years of really severe pain. >> well, again, this is what was said. >> rose: the price you have to pay. >> and the truth is we have seen a rapid fall in the number of work less households and a rapid rise in the number of young people getting work. >> rose: and naomi