It’s Time for Real Oversight of Our Intelligence Agencies

Out of Date Intelligence

Lawmakers need to take a long hard look at U.S. intelligence agencies, not rush through a hasty Patriot Act rewrite.

In this June 6, 2013 file photo, a sign stands outside the National Security Agency (NSA) campus in Fort Meade, Md.

Congress shouldn’t make a move without serious analysis.

By May 20, 2015 | 2:15 p.m. EDT+ More  USNEWS & WORLD REPORT

338-88. That was the overwhelming vote in the House of Representatives last week to end the National Security Agency’s bulk collection program. When little about our Congress is bipartisan, that vote showed remarkable unanimity among Republicans and Democrats that our intelligence agencies desperately need reining in, and soon.

From massive data mining of American’s personal information to the uncontrolled use of torture in secret prisons overseas to the rapid expansion of invasive drones, the time for oversight is now. But several controversial sections of the Patriot Act are about to expire and Congress is in a quagmire about what to do.

Let me offer one suggestion. Don’t make any long-term moves without serious analysis and examination. What is needed is an in-depth investigation of our intelligence agencies and Congress should take the lead with a special, select committee that includes key members involved in intelligence and homeland security issues. President Barack Obama should also issue an executive order to create a “Simpson-Bowles”-type commission on intelligence oversight for the 21st century. Both a Congressional investigation and presidential commission are long overdue.

Before September 11, 2001, oversight was lacking; since then it has been “how big a check can we write?” According to the Washington Post, Snowden-leaked documents indicate that our 16 spy agenciesemploy over 107,000 people and now spend over $70 billion. That is twice the budget of 2001.

Despite efforts to consolidate intelligence gathering and analysis after 9/11 there is still ample evidence that we are confronted with competing fiefdoms, lack of direction, confusing command and control and increased compartmentalization. This, combined with a rapidly growing complex technology that allows for easy collection, inexpensive storage and a vastly enhanced intrusive look at people’s personal information demands a fresh, new look at civil liberties, national security and the laws that govern intelligence.

The 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act that many of us worked on is woefully out of date, despite selective revisions. The passage of the Patriot Act that was done quickly after 9/11 needs to be seriously revisited. But right now, Congress is rushing to pass legislation without a serious and thorough look at what is needed and why it is needed. Right now, neither the Obama administration nor certain leaders in Congress want to rock the boat on intelligence.

Forty years ago this year the Church Committee was established to investigate domestic spying, assassination plots against foreign leaders and the lack of serious oversight of our intelligence agencies. Next week, two members of that committee, former Vice President Walter Mondale and former Sen. Gary Hart, will headline a day-long look at strengthening intelligence oversight, sponsored by the Brennan Center. Along with former staff members of the Church Committee and other experts, they will explore paths to reform.

As a young staff member of that Committee, I felt that we were steering the country in the right direction, away from warrantless wiretaps of civil rights leaders like Martin Luther King Jr., away from covert actions that hurt America abroad, away from a system without accountability or serious oversight. We produced 14 lengthy reports on abuses and suggested recommendations, many of which became law.

Now, the technology has changed, the threats have changed, the world has changed. It is high time that our country and our government take a good, hard look at the role and responsibility of our intelligence agencies, the laws that govern them and what kind of oversight is essential to preserving our democracy.

 

What Hillary Needs to Do — USNews Column

How Clinton Will Win

Hillary Clinton must weather the personal attacks and stay on the offensive to win in 2016.

Former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton delivers remarks during the National Council for Behavioral Health's Annual Conference at the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center on May 6, 2014 in National Harbor, Md.

She’ll need a thick skin.

By April 22, 2015 | 9:00 a.m. EDT+ More

First of all, I hate these “10 things” diatribes, and I especially hate the presumption that 18 months out from an election anyone should be so arrogant as to claim the answers were apparent. Yet, I find myself having the overwhelming urge to do just that – mainly as an exercise that tests both what might be the conventional wisdom and what might be a bit outside the box. So here goes: advice for Hillary Clinton.

First, this is very much about having a thick skin. If you think the past 20-plus years have been rough, “the vast right-wing conspiracy” was just getting started. If you think the Swift Boat crowd was outrageous and way over the top, that was softball compared to what you will be experiencing. If you think that all those Fox News characters saying nice things about you and Bill was anything other than their way of eviscerating President Barack Obama, fasten your seat belt.

Point is, they want to generate a response from you. That is why there will be more books, more prodding of the press, more hounding your events, more orchestrated and persistent and personal attacks from third parties as well as the nearly two dozen so-called Republican candidates for president. Stay calm. Stay cool. Stay focused on what the American people care about. It will not be easy since much of this will focus on your family, on Bill, on Chelsea, on the work of the Clinton Foundation, on trying to tear you down as a person – your motivations, your personality, your very essence.

[READ: Hillary Clinton 2016 Campaign Bakes Humble Pie in Iowa]

But here is the key: Even as you fail to respond to most of these inane attacks, you need a “truth squad” that sorts through the slings and arrows and makes careful, reasoned decisions on countering the ones that need to be countered. Not just in the eight-second back-and-forth nonsense of gladiator cable TV but in serious, fact-based rebuttals that a responsible press can digest and the public will understand.

Nevertheless, bottom line, this cannot be a defensive campaign. You have the wind at your back, and the Republicans know it. The demographics benefit you tremendously in 2016. When Bill was elected in 1992, 87 percent of the voters were white, and the odds are that figure will be around 70 percent this time. The retrograde Republican Party is destined to nominate someone who will be backward-looking on gay rights, on immigration, on climate change, on women’s rights and civil rights, and on tax giveaways to the wealthy instead of helping everyday working people. Their personalities and platforms will appeal to a narrow portion of the electorate, not most Americans. A candidate cannot be anti-women, anti-black, anti-Hispanic, anti-Asian, anti-gay, anti-young, anti-working families – and pro-1 percent – and win a presidential election.

So, as you began in Iowa and New Hampshire, the message must be about who understands the problems, the frustrations and the predicaments of most Americans. Who will make their lives better, who will fight for them, whose experience and history can be trusted to deliver the goods? Who believes in them and who has been, and will be, effective? As a Senator, you “co-sponsored legislation and engaged in advocacy efforts with nearly every conservative member,” according to the book “The Way to Win” by Mark Halperin and John Harris. Many of these Republican Senators had voted to impeach your husband.

[SEE: Editorial Cartoons on Hillary Clinton]

So, as intense as the personal attacks will be, your job and the job of your campaign will be to stay on the offensive. Your platform is sound and, unfortunately for the Republicans, theirs is not. I would like to say there are some real substantive differences among the Republicans, but basically they are all cut from the same cloth. And they are all going even further right to win the nomination. This is your opportunity to make your views clear and to provide a solid and hard-hitting contrast to the Republicans.

If they are going to hit you personally for the next year-and-a-half, you can use that time to talk in clear, comparative terms about the country’s future, what you would do and what they would do. The Republican candidates are all in the same boat, not a moderate among them, so votes on the inheritance tax, supporting Gov. Mike Pence in Indiana, cutting education across the country, opposing increases in the minimum wage, opposing immigration reform and being anti-campaign finance reform are all easy comparisons.

Finally, in the upcoming forums and debates that you will have with other Democrats who are running for the nomination – and there will be at least three, I believe (Bernie Sanders, Jim Webb and Martin O’Malley) – you can use that opportunity to draw a clear contrast with the Republicans. There will be widespread agreement among all of you about the train wreck that is this field of Republicans, and this is a great opportunity to draw the clear differences to strengthen your candidacy.

[Hillary Clinton’s Iowa Van Trip and the Problem With ‘Authenticity’]

A version of the listening tour and meeting with voters in these early states will pay huge dividends and should be continued throughout the year. In the coming weeks and months, you can weave in the clear distinctions between you, the Democratic Party, and the Republican candidates and the Republican Party. The change in the Republican Party over the past three decades, especially the past decade, has turned people away. It is increasingly becoming a very small tent, especially as America’s tent has grown bigger. This is not your grandmother’s Republican Party anymore. And that message can be personalized to any one of the Republicans running this year.

This is truly a marathon, and the ups and downs will probably be more intense than almost any presidential campaign in history. But voters respect resilience, appreciate strength and admire leaders who come through the fire. There will be plenty of fire, but you will be the better for it.

Marco Rubio 2016 Bid More Like a Blast From the Past – US News

Rubio’s Blast From the Past

The Florida senator’s 2016 bid looks more like a paean to the Gilded Age than a plan for the future.

In this Dec. 17, 2014 file photo, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla. speaks on Capitol Hill in Washington.

Loves him some Gilded Age policies.

By April 14, 2015 | 4:15 p.m. EDT+ More

Marco Rubio, 43, kicked off his campaign yesterday by telling voters that he is the future and Hillary Clinton is the past. He is young, she is old. He is 21st century, she is 20th century.

But there is one very basic and glaring flaw with his argument: His views fit well into the 1800s, while Clinton’s views are modern and look very much like the America of today and tomorrow. Age isn’t everything, Marco.

Let’s try equal pay for equal work. Rubio is against the Lilly Ledbetter Act, while Clinton co-sponsored it. He voted twice against the Paycheck Fairness Act. Clinton is a strong supporter and became the lead sponsor when Tom Daschle left the Senate.

[SEE: Editorial Cartoons on the 2016 Presidential Elections]

How about equal rights for the LGBT community and support for gay marriage? Rubio is solidly against gay marriage and supported not only the recent Indiana law on “religious freedom,” but even the Arizona version in 2013. He is consistently out of step. Clinton, of course, supports gay marriage and equal rights.

On the minimum wage, Rubio is not only opposed to it being raised but has said, “I don’t think the minimum wage law works.” Clinton favors raising the minimum wage.

On tax policy, Rubio has consistently supported the late 19th century, Gilded Age tax policy that benefited the wealthy at the expense of the middle class. Once again, his answer is to cut taxes for the wealthiest of Americans. According to the Washington Post, “If he wins his party’s nomination, though, Rubio will have to defend a tax plan that, while said to address the challenges of the middle class, includes a huge break that all-but bypasses the middle and greatly boosts the rich. It was a tax plan that was even too large for Romney himself to run on.” Rubio would eliminate all taxes on dividends and capital gains. That sounds like it was written by the robber barons of old to me. Clinton, of course, believes that kind of tax policy is the way of the past, not the wave of the future.

[SEE: Editorial Cartoons on Hillary Clinton]

On one of the most critical issues of our time, climate change, Rubio again has his head in the sand, along with most of the other Republican candidates for president. Last May, he told ABC News that “I do not believe that human activity is causing these dramatic changes to our climate the way these scientists are portraying it. And I do not believe that laws that they propose we pass will do anything about it. Except it will destroy our economy.” Clinton, as we all know, supports efforts to combat climate change, such as the president’s Clean Power Plan.

So, who really has a vision for the future – on equal rights, on equal pay, on tax policy, on the environment – on where this country should be headed? And who does not learn the lessons of history, but seems condemned to repeat them, as if he were back in the 1800s?

If Rubio truly believes his views are appealing, maybe his slogan should actually be “Back to the Future.”

Reagan Wouldn’t Approve of Indiana and Arkansas ‘Religious Freedom’ Laws – US News

The Party of Exclusion

The GOP’s embrace of ‘religious freedom’ laws is at odds with Reagan’s call for a big tent.

By Peter Fenn April 1, 2015 | 10:00 a.m. EDT + More

I was surprised by Indiana Gov. Mike Pence signing such a horrendous, poorly written law on “religious restoration,” but not nearly as surprised when the Republican presidential candidates rushed to his defense after the criticism went nuclear. Are they all in the grips of religious fanatics?

Consider this: “Conservatism is the antithesis of the kind of ideological fanaticism that has brought so much horror and destruction to the world. The common sense and common decency of ordinary men and women, working out their own lives in their own way — this is the heart of American conservatism today. Conservative wisdom and principles are derived from willingness to learn, not just from what is going on now, but from what has happened before.”

Is this from some 18th-century philosopher? Not exactly.

[SEE: Editorial Cartoons on the Indiana Religious Freedom Act]

It is from a speech by Ronald Reagan to the Fourth Conservative Political Action Conference on Feb. 6, 1977. A speech he gave nearly 40 years ago outlining his beliefs and calling for a New Republican Party.

As a life-long Democrat and a liberal I am not fond of President Reagan’s time in office, nor the movement of his party to the right. I am not fond of the absence of Republican leaders who represent moderation and reasonable compromise – the Eisenhowers, Fords, Dirksens, Doles. Yet, even Reagan would be appalled at what his party and its leaders are up to these days. (And not only in Indiana; Arkansas also passed a “religious freedom” law yesterday.)

Also in that speech, Reagan made the following comment after appealing to factory workers and black voters with his conservative agenda:

And just to set the record straight, let me say this about our friends who are now Republicans but who do not identify themselves as conservatives: I want the record to show that I do not view the new revitalized Republican Party as one based on a principle of exclusion. After all, you do not get to be a majority party by searching for groups you won’t associate or work with. If we truly believe in our principles, we should sit down and talk. Talk with anyone, anywhere, at any time if it means talking about the principles for the Republican Party. Conservatism is not a narrow ideology, nor is it the exclusive property of conservative activists. (my emphasis added)

Well, the Republican Party today certainly seems to conform to a “narrow ideology” and consistently responds to intolerance from “activists,” whether we are talking about anti-LGBT actions, anti-immigrant actions or anti-minority actions. It is almost as if every Republican candidate for president is either too afraid to confront the far right or truly believes what they are saying. All the candidates are doing their very best to out-do one another on just how extreme they can become in the course of this campaign.

[SEE: Republican Party Cartoons]

Sen. Ted Cruz announced his candidacy for president at Liberty Baptist University. That is considered the mainstream of the Republican Party now? Consider this: Reagan chose to campaign in the South Bronx toward the end of the 1980 presidential race. How is that for a contrast?

When Americans are increasingly hostile to discrimination, we have a political party that appears to embrace it. When Americans are worried about inclusion, we have a party that is all about exclusion.

America is changing. America is becoming more diverse. America is moving forward. The Republican Party seems intent on moving in reverse. It seems to be intent on being the party of the aging white male. When Bill Clinton was president, 87 percent of the electorate was white; now it is 72 percent.

Or, as Reagan said in that speech in 1977, “if we are going to attract more working men and women of this country, we will do so not by simply ‘making room’ for them, but by making certain they have a say in what goes on in the party.”

Not only are many Americans light years away from having a say, the door is being slammed in their face.

via Reagan Wouldn’t Approve of Indiana and Arkansas ‘Religious Freedom’ Laws – US News.

The U.S. Is Failing the Women in Anti-Trafficking Bill Abortion Spat – US News

Failing Victims Across the Globe

Congress has let an anti-human trafficking bill get bogged down in abortion politics.

Not getting the job done.

By Peter Fenn March 20, 2015 | 12:05 p.m. EDT + More

The Senate voted for a fifth time on Thursday to prevent a bill that was supposed to be non-controversial from being passed. I know, something new and different when it comes to Congress. But this legislation – the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act – was designed to deal with the critical issue of human trafficking.

This effort to help those who have been harmed by sex trafficking – raped, abused and held captive – was supported by a bipartisan coalition. That is, until some Republicans slipped in anti-abortion language at the last minute that undermined the legislation.

The Hyde Amendment already prohibits federal funds from being used for abortions except in the cases of rape, incest and to save the woman’s life. But this new language would prohibit other funds from fines from being used and also make it increasingly difficult to treat women who have been raped multiple times. For some of these women, the burden of proof could be shifted. Some courts and judges just may not trust women in these circumstances.

[READ: Breaking a Bad Business]

So, bottom line, we already have the Hyde Amendment in place (sadly for some of us) and there is no need to jeopardize this excellent piece of legislation at the last moment.

But this brings up another very important issue when it comes to women abused and raped, especially in conflict situations. Rape has been used as a weapon of war across the globe, from Bosnia to Syria, from the Democratic Republic of Congo to the latest acts of terror by the Islamic State group. Women and girls are the targets of horrific acts designed to strike fear and intimidate whole societies during wartime. The actions are barbaric and have raised the conscience of people across the globe.

Sadly, not enough is being done to provide comprehensive health care to these women. The U.N. Secretary General, in a 34-page report, states the following: “In line with Security Council resolution 2122 (2013), I call on all actors to support improved access to comprehensive sexual and reproductive health services in conflict-affected settings. This must include access to HIV counseling and testing, which remains limited in many settings, and the safe termination of pregnancies for survivors of conflict-related rape.”

[SEE: Editorial Cartoons on Congress]

Right now, the United States government has failed these women and girls. A 40-year-old law known as the Helms Amendment, named after the late Sen. Jesse Helms, R-N.C., states that “no foreign assistance funds shall be used to pay for the performance of abortion as a method of family planning.” Clearly, rape, incest and saving the woman’s life are not family planning. Thus, even a proper interpretation of the Helms Amendment would still allow the U.S. to provide comprehensive health care, including voluntary abortions, in the cases of rape.

All it would take is executive action by the president to properly interpret this amendment and we could stand with many other nations around the world who are combating violence against women and providing vital services.

President Barack Obama should act. In September, he told the U.N. General Assembly, “Mothers, sisters, daughters have been subjected to rape as a weapon of war.” Now is the time for him to help these women.

via The U.S. Is Failing the Women in Anti-Trafficking Bill Abortion Spat – US News.

The Rapid Radicalization of the Republican Party – US News

Straight to ‘Hell No’

As the hard right has taken over the GOP it’s gone from very conservative to “Hell no!”

Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio speaks at the 2014 Values Voter Summit in Washington, Friday, Sept. 26, 2014.

Rep. Jim Jordan is among those pushing the party far right.

By March 3, 2015 | 1:00 p.m. EST+ More

This is a blog, not a history lesson. But I can’t resist trying to make some sense of the current Republican desire for self-immolation.

Where has this so-called “Hell No Caucus” come from? Whether it is refusing to pass bills to fund the government, approve increases in the debt ceiling or provide money for the Department of Homeland Security, the Republican Party has an increasingly apparent and growing antagonism to pragmatic solutions. It has drifted so far right that it is truly in danger of self-destruction. As New York Republican Rep. Peter King, put it on ABC’s “This Week,” “[T]here’s a wing within the Congress which is absolutely irresponsible – they have no concept of reality.” Speaking with MSNBC’s Luke Russert on Friday, he added, “I’ve had it with this self-righteous, delusional wing of the party.”

The GOP has become more and more extreme, to a point where it is barely recognizable from what it was in the 20th century. Even Ronald Reagan, and certainly Barry Goldwater, would not understand their party today.

[SEE: Political Cartoons on the Republican Party]

I remember producing a pamphlet on the rise of the “New Right” in the early 1980s with an analysis of groups like the National Conservative Political Action Committee, the Heritage Foundation, the Moral Majority, the Conservative Victory Fund and many others. We argued how destructive the extreme right wing views were at the time but little did we realize how nihilistic they would become.

Here is the history lesson.

A very conservative group formed in 1973 called the Republican Study Committee. They were small, but they were opposed to both Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford as too liberal and decided to organize against their policies. Then-Rep. Phil Crane of Illinois and congressional staffers Paul Weyrich, who went on to found the Heritage Foundation, and Ed Feulner, who later headed Heritage, were driving forces, along with several other members of Congress. When Newt Gingrich became House speaker in 1995, he didn’t want a separate group on his flank causing trouble, despite the fact that his conservative views were not too far from theirs. So he abolished it; but it came back.

[SEE: Editorial Cartoons on the Tea Party]

A National Journal article last year discussed in detail the evolution and rapid growth of this far right caucus.The growth of the Republican Study Committee since 1995 has been truly dramatic – 15 members out of 218 in 1995, up to 72 members out of 220 in 2001 and skyrocketing to 171 members in 2013. The percentage of Republicans who joined this very conservative group went from 7 percent in 1995 to over 70 percent last year.

It is not too difficult to understand why House Speaker John Boehner, or any speaker, might have trouble with his or her Republican caucus.

Of course, there are other groups. Michele Bachmann helped organize the Tea Party Caucus several years ago, a group more extreme than the Study Committee. And, now, an initial nine members of the Study Committee, led by Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, have begun to assemble the House Freedom Caucus. More trouble is afoot than Republicans may realize.

The vote last Friday where 52 Republicans bucked the speaker on his effort to move forward on funding for DHS says a lot about the GOP’s direction. The numbers don’t add up for Boehner to move much of anything forward, and the Senate won’t buy what the Study Committee or the Freedom Caucus are selling.

[SEE: Editorial Cartoons on Congress]

The rapid radicalization of the Republican Party is playing out in the presidential sweepstakes as well. The Conservative Political Action Conference has gone from a fringe gathering to a primary litmus test for most candidates.

There is no such thing as a moderate voice in the leadership of the Republican Party any longer; there is barely a Main Street conservative voice that will get traction within the party that now finds itself in control of the House and Senate. Even the John Boehners and the Mitch McConnells live in fear of the new suicide caucus.

The problem, as many Republicans know, is that this crowd is ungovernable and ultimately, nationally, unelectable.

Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton 2016 Fundraising Is Out of Control – US News

The Great 2016 Money Chase

Campaign spending is out of control, and it’s ruining our political system.

He needs this much more.

By Peter Fenn Feb. 12, 2015 | 11:55 a.m. EST + More

John F. Kennedy was known for a funny line he delivered at a Denver fundraiser in 1960.  After a glowing introduction he remarked that he was “deeply touched, but not as deeply touched as you have been in coming to this luncheon.” This at a time when $100 was considered a major donation. And indeed, $100 was the highest price for a seat a few years later at a JFK birthday party fundraiser for the Democratic Party that featured Jack Benny, Bobby Darin, Ella Fitzgerald, Henry Fonda and Marilyn Monroe singing, “Happy Birthday, Mr. President.”

What a different world we inhabit today when it comes to political fundraising.

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush was scheduled to have an event last night at the Park Avenue home of Wall Street mogul Henry Kravis and his wife, where the entry fee would be $100,000. No, that is not a typo. Now, I admit I am not clear whether that is per person or per couple but … is that what fundraising has become after the recent Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission Supreme Court decision?

[SEE: Editorial Cartoons on the 2016 Presidential Elections]

Press reports indicate that a political action committee supporting Hillary Clinton, Priorities USA Action, is having trouble raising its goal of $500 million. Again, not a typo. Evidently, there is a major effort afoot to entice 30 individuals to give a million dollars each to the PAC. Thus far, the PAC has only 10 takers. Only ten? Gee, tough life.

We just spent nearly $4 billion – yes billion – for the 2014 elections and achieved the lowest voter turnout in a midterm since 1942.

Sadly, PACs and independent groups were estimated to have spent more than half a billion dollars on harsh, negative, attack advertising.

[SEE: Political Cartoons on the Economy]

This has become the equivalent of a money nuclear arms race. It resembles the Cold War between the Soviet Union and the United States, except it is about money not weapons. Each side is locked into a rapidly rising fundraising effort that has seen the costs of campaigns more than double from about $3 billion in 2000 to over $6 billion in 2012, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

The question, of course, is what will it take to reverse this trend and to convince our legislators that the time they spend “dialing for dollars” and attending fundraisers truly takes away from the job they were elected to do.

[SEE: Editorial Cartoons on Hillary Clinton]

What is crystal clear right now is that anything goes in our current climate – any amount is fair game – and the likelihood is we will bust all records in 2016. How far we have come from JFK’s quaint comments comparing such small sums to being “deeply touched” to an admission fee of $100,000 to a swanky New York event for Bush or a million dollars for a super PAC backing Hillary.

The road we are headed down is transforming our political system – and not for the better.

via Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton 2016 Fundraising Is Out of Control – US News.

The Republicans: Tying Themselves in Knots

.

The GOP’s Self-Imposed Straightjacket

Republicans are tying themselves in knots with problematic legislation and pointless fights.

Editorial Cartoon on the Republican Party

By Feb. 9, 2015 | 8:00 a.m. EST+ More

USNEWS & WORLD REPORT—THOMAS JEFFERSON STREET BLOG

Ever since the Republicans gained control of Congress in November, they have proceeded to box themselves into untenable positions – a veritable straight jacket.

The decision to link the Department of Homeland Security funding to an attack on the president’s immigration executive order was tantamount to issuing a threat that is impossible to deliver on without harming both our nation’s security and the Republican brand. After Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell rejected future Republican government shutdowns, the decision to hold Homeland Security funding hostage at a time of cyberattacks and heightened concern for terrorism takes the country right back down the shutdown road. Now Republicans have to figure out how to get themselves out of the mess they created.

Then, somehow, many Republicans followed the Michele Bachmann path of criticizing vaccines, or at least government involvement, just at the time of a measles outbreak – and following the Ebola scare. Presidential candidates are trying desperately to untangle themselves from past rhetoric and a desire to please the libertarian crowd, who seem to despise any sort of government regulation or intervention, even in the health care field.

[SEE: Editorial Cartoons on the Republican Party]

Do they have no memory of polio or smallpox or diphtheria or tetanus or the host of other diseases that vaccines have nearly wiped out in the United States? Is this really a smart policy position on which to invoke “individual liberty” – to allow parents not to immunize their children against deadly diseases? Why would a politician argue that it is not a good thing to use modern science to help eliminate historically devastating illnesses? Beats me.

Then we see House Speaker John Boehner engaging in a bit of unprecedented private diplomacy, as he invited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to speak to a joint session of Congress just over one month before an election in Israel, without consulting with the White House, the State Department or others in the Democratic leadership. This was a Lone Ranger move if there ever was one, designed to give Netanyahu a political boost back home. Boehner created controversy and caused himself untold problems for no reason.

In addition, the Republican leadership has to untangle itself from legislation that involves controversial language on rape and its reporting, and on whether or not climate change exists and who is responsible if it does. And all of this is in addition to holding more votes to repeal the Affordable Care Act without offering any positive solutions in return.

[OPINION: Don’t Make Vaccines a Partisan Issue After Christie Remarks]

There also seems to be a clear Republican strategy of offering legislation that they know will result in a presidential veto, thereby furthering the public’s impression that congress gets nothing done and is increasingly engaged in partisan gridlock. For a president who has vetoed a grand total of two bills in six years, Barack Obama is not exactly known as fast on the trigger with a veto pen.

So the bottom line seems to be that the first few months of the Republican takeover have not been exactly productive, for the country or for the Republicans. They seem to find themselves in a self-imposed straightjacket they are having trouble removing.

Harry Truman Got it Right on the CIA

Heed Truman’s Call to Rein in the CIA

Obama and Congress need to get serious about reining in the CIA, just as Truman advised in 1963.

**ADVANCE FOR TUESDAY, FEB. 24** **FILE** In this March 23, 1953 file photo former U.S. President Harry S. Truman is followed by two Los Angeles detectives as he walks on the deck of the SS President Cleveland in Los Angeles, Harbor. Truman and his family are on vacation and traveling to Hawaii. (AP Photo, file)

We should have listened.

By Jan. 28, 2015 | 5:55 p.m. EST—USNews & World Report+ More

“There is something about the way the CIA has been functioning that is casting a shadow over our historic position and I feel that we need to correct it.” President Harry S. Truman wrote those words in an op-ed for the Washington Post on Dec.22, 1963, entitled “Limit CIA Role to Intelligence.”

This was exactly one month after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy and a bit more than 10 years before the formation of the Church Committee, chaired by Sen. Frank Church, D-Idaho, to study abuses in the intelligence committee (which was a precursor to today’s permanent Senate Select Committee on Intelligence). Now, more than 50 years after Truman’s op-ed, the intelligence committee has released a report investigating the CIA’s use of torture in the years after 9/11.

[SEE: Editorial Cartoons on 2014 Congressional Elections]

In his Post piece, Truman argued that the CIA had been “diverted from its original assignment” (intelligence collection and analysis) and had “become an operational and at times a policy-making arm of the Government.” It is now long past time to heed Truman’s words. There have been many calls over many decades to rein in the CIA and our intelligence agencies.

But, sadly, we seem to slip back into the same old patterns where the executive gives an order, or a wink and a nod, and the CIA goes off in secret to “do its thing.” Whether it was overthrowing governments beginning in the 1950s, the attempted assassination of Fidel Castro in the 1960s or creating secret prisons for torture in the 2000s, the pattern is truly disturbing; in some cases, it was so disturbing that the CIA conducted internal reviews of its own actions.

[SEE: Editorial Cartoons on Torture and the CIA’s Enhanced Interrogation Techniques]

Before the Church Committee investigated assassination plots, spying on American citizens, drug testing at home and coup attempts abroad, former CIA directors James Schlesinger and William Colby had pulled together a study known as the Family Jewels. This attempted to lay out those areas where the agency had gone beyond its mandate and ventured into areas that were very likely illegal but, in any case, did not live up to the ethical and moral standards of the United States.

Nearly 40 years later, the CIA looked at its enhanced interrogation techniques (aka torture) and secret prisons in the still-classified Panetta Review. Just as with the Family Jewels, this study illustrates how the CIA under general orders from President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney “led to trouble and may have compounded our difficulties in several explosive areas,” as Truman wrote presciently so many years ago.

After the Church Committee investigation in 1975, our intelligence agencies were prohibited from assassinating foreign leaders and illegally spying on Americans, and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court was created to further ensure prevention of unreasonable searches and seizures. In addition, permanent congressional oversight committees were established to do just what Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s, D-Calif., committee did last year to investigate the CIA on torture.

[SEE: Editorial Cartoons on Barack Obama]

The problem now is that Congress and President Barack Obama are reluctant to put in force serious remedies that will prevent systematic torture from ever happening again. There is an effort by Feinstein to introduce legislation, but without strong backing by Obama and with a Republican-controlled Congress, there is little likelihood for its passage. It is also doubtful that we will be holding the perpetrators accountable or releasing the Panetta report anytime soon.

We need a new Church Committee or serious presidential commission with staff and subpoena power to examine the roles and responsibilities of the various intelligence agencies and to propose reforms and updated legal remedies. The new world in which we live, one that involves growing terror threats, a sophisticated and unprecedented ability to monitor communications and collect data and the commitment of vast resources to intelligence, demands far greater oversight.

Truman had it right so many years ago when he called for an examination of the CIA’s role. Our modern world makes this even more necessary for all our intelligence agencies. The bottom line is if Congress and Obama continue with politics as usual, Cheney may have the last word when it comes to torture and other actions: “I’d do it again in a minute.”

Boehner and the GOP Playing Politics with Immigration and Homeland Security

Whose Security?

The GOP is playing games with the Department of Homeland Security’s funding in order to placate its extremists.

The Associated Press

Get your bone-throwing on.

By Jan. 13, 2015 | 3:45 p.m. EST+ More

The Republicans are railing against President Barack Obama for not having a high level U.S. official marching in solidarity with the French this past weekend. OK, that was a mistake on Obama’s part, but this from the Republican crowd that was so anti-France it wanted to change the name of “French fries” in the House of Representatives cafeteria to “Freedom fries”? This from the crowd who will vote tomorrow to approve a Homeland Security Bill totaling $39.7 billion only if it guts our immigration system and refuses to fund the Dream Act, deporting hundreds of thousands of children as well as parents? This from the Republicans who refused to act for a year and a half on a bipartisan Senate bill on immigration that passed with over two-thirds of the vote?

[SEE: 2014: The Year in Cartoons]

Does Speaker John Boehner really want to put in jeopardy the funding for Homeland Security, especially after the attacks in France and the raised threat level? I doubt it. But the speaker needs to throw his sizable right-wing caucus a bone and let them vote to defund Obama’s immigration plans. He then prays that the Senate saves him, doesn’t pass this absurd piece of legislation, so then they can end up passing a clean bill funding Homeland Security before the end of February when funding runs out. Or if the president is forced to veto the bill, he figures that somehow some fig leaf can be created to allow him to basically bring up a clean funding bill.

This strategy, negotiated with the extremist members of the House of Representatives, was lunacy in December; it is akin to a Kamikaze mission for Republicans now.

In fact, it is a double whammy. It convinces voters that Republicans are the anti-Hispanic and anti-immigrant party, and that they are more than willing to sacrifice our nation’s security to prove how intolerant they are as a party.

[SEE: Political Cartoons on the Republican Party]

My guess is that the reason Boehner wants a vote on Wednesday is to get it out of the way, to give the extremists their say and then avoid a last minute crisis over Homeland Security funding. One day of a “shutdown” of those critical agencies is one day too many.

It will be interesting to see how many of these strategic blunders the Republicans make over the course of the next two years. The House, of course, can pass whatever it wants, but if the GOP puts forth bills as unrealistic and unhelpful as this effort, it will certainly pay the price at the ballot box. It will be their own job security that will be put in peril.

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