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


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.

‘Selma’ — Great Movie But Wrong on LBJ


What ‘Selma’ Gets Wrong About LBJ

The movie botched its portrayal of the former president.

From the U.S. News Archives 19

President Lyndon B. Johnson signs the 1964 Civil Rights Bill.

By Jan. 5, 2015 | 1:00 p.m. EST+ More


“Selma” was an excellent movie. Captivating. Dramatic. Well acted. It is an important window on one of the most telling episodes in American history and the still ongoing struggle for civil rights.

The film paid a lot of attention to detail, not only to the unfolding of the Selma to Montgomery march and the events leading up to it, but to the struggles and personalities within the movement. It also paid attention to the little details. For instance, Sunday’s New York Times had a photo from the movie of the actors playing Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King in their kitchen. The phone she was talking on was vintage 1960s, as were the metal kitchen table and chairs, the clock on the wall, the small portable TV, the linoleum floor tiles, and the sweater and dress the actors wore. Throughout the movie we saw life as it was during that era, and great efforts were clearly made to get the key elements of the story right.

That is why it is so unfortunate, as so many have pointed out (including King-aide and later Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young), that the protrayal of President Lyndon Johnson was so far off base. Johnson was portrayed by the film’s director, Ava DuVernay, and the writers in a highly negative light, opposing King and what he was trying to achieve.

In fact, LBJ was supportive of focusing attention on voting rights and urged King in a recorded telephone conversation to “find the worst condition that you run into in Alabama, Mississippi or Louisiana or South Carolina … and get it on radio, get it on television, get it in the pulpits, get it in the meetings, get it everyplace you can. And if we do that we will break through. It will be the greatest breakthrough of anything, not even excepting this ’64 (Civil Rights) Act, I think the greatest achievement of my administration.”

This is not about artistic license. It is not about historical interpretation. It is not just an unimportant “detail” in such a movie. It is definitely not just about, as a Washington Post reporter called it, “fact-checking.” It is integral to the story, a key element of the narrative, and involves the actions and attitude of a key player: the president of the United States.

This movie does not claim to be “based on a true story.” It claims to be history. This movie does not simply combine events or create dialogue, which viewers understand, but misrepresents one aspect of the history. As we still struggle with racial politics in America, as we still try to make sense of senseless killings, as we find such a wide divergence in how whites and blacks perceive civil rights, this movie has created a bit of a firestorm, and at the very least a sense of mistrust.

We will never know all that LBJ was thinking nor have a true sense of the complexity of the relationship between King and Johnson, but we do know that LBJ did not order then FBI head J. Edgar Hoover to undermine King. We do know that LBJ led the politically risky fight in 1957 as majority leader of the Senate for a civil rights bill and again as president for the 1964 Civil Rights Act. We know that Johnson was integral to the strategy to pass the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

There were plenty of villains in the 1960s who committed horrible acts or vehemently fought equal rights or stood by and did nothing in the face of hatred and discrimination. Johnson was not one of those people. Was he perfect? No. Did he exhibit his southern heritage? By all accounts, yes. Was he balancing “101 problems” as the movie suggests? Yes. But LBJ was there in the trenches.

And, fundamentally, could the United States have passed civil rights legislation in the 1960s without the leadership, activism and non-violent movement led by King? Nope. Did King push the people, the Congress and the president into action? Absolutely. Was his role front and center? No question.

At the end of the day, progress happens when people come together. And this was what happened in 1964 and 1965.

Maybe the lesson we need to learn from “Selma” and from the debate and discussion about the movie is that our country should confront the wide gulf that still exists between black and white. Just as South Africa created a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, at the urging of Nelson Mandela, maybe America could use a comprehensive look at race and attitudes about equal opportunity, as well as issues of poverty, policing, education and incarceration.

President Barack Obama could act to create such a commission with a mandate to look at where we have come since 1965 and where we need to go to fulfill the dream that Martin Luther King and LBJ fought so hard for so many years ago.

Torture Report — Deja Vu All Over Again

Return of the CIA’s ‘Rogue Elephants’

The Senate’s report on torture shows U.S. intelligence agencies need to be reined in again.

The Associated Press

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who released the report.

By Dec. 10, 2014 | 2:30 p.m. EST+ More—–WSNEWS & World Report Thomas Jefferson Street Blog

The Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on CIA torture makes for painful reading for those of us who thought that our intelligence agencies had been brought under control decades ago. We should have been so hopeful!

It has been nearly 40 years since I was a young staff member on the Senate Select Committee chaired by Sen. Frank Church, D-Idaho, that was charged with investigating our intelligence agencies. We uncovered secret spying on Americans, we investigated coups against foreign governments, we looked into assassination plots against foreign leaders, and we blew the whistle on the FBI’s bugs of Martin Luther King and its efforts to get him to commit suicide. The scary and sickening period in our history needed to be examined so that it would never be repeated.

[VIEWS YOU CAN USE: The CIA Torture Report Goes Public]

Well, sadly, as Yogi Berra put it, here we are, deja vu all over again.

There are a number of reasons I am not surprised by what was revealed in the report. As my old boss Church pointed out so many years ago, the CIA often acts as a “rogue elephant.” Presidents often give consent to broad policy guidelines, then stay out of the details. This provides some sense of “plausible deniability” for the chief executive. It is clear that President George W. Bush (or Secretary of State Colin Powell or Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld) did not get the details of what was occurring. When Bush found out about prisoners hanging from the ceiling in diapers, he was clearly not pleased, according to the report.

Another reason I am not surprised goes back 40 years to when I went to the White House with members of the Church Committee and other staff to meet with then-President Gerald Ford and Vice President Nelson Rockefeller on the issue of assassinations. (I think I probably went because I was driving the car!) Several of us were naturally kept in the waiting room, but there was one individual who I can’t forget going in and out: future Vice President Dick Cheney.

Cheney was chief of staff to Ford from 1975 to 1977 and held the Church Committee and the role of Congress in investigating the intelligence agencies in total contempt. From those early days and meetings, it was clear to many of us that Cheney would not condone “interference” and held the view that we were out to destroy the CIA, not to save it. His views only hardened and his contempt for Congress only deepened in his years as vice president.

[READ: In 2016, GOP Must Move Past Bush and Obama’s National Security Failures]

And one more thing hasn’t changed: We were lied to when we first investigated the intelligence agencies back in the 1970s, and once again the Cheneys and the Michael Haydens lied before Congress and to the American people.

This period of black sites and torture and out-of-control operatives has not enhanced our nation’s security, it has undermined it, much as the activities of our intelligence agencies did over four decades ago. We investigated them then, and the light of day has been shown on them now.

Courageous senators such as Colorado Democrat Mark Udall and California Democrat Dianne Feinstein would not give up or give in. Nor would the hardworking staff of the current Senate Intelligence Committee when confronted with CIA intimidation. Without strong congressional oversight, the “rogue elephants” will return again and again. The question, of course, is when will we ever learn?

We paid two armchair psychologists $81 million to devise torture techniques that, if they read any studies over the past 100 years, they would know don’t work. Not only is torture immoral, but it is ineffective. This was the gang that couldn’t shoot straight – it had no background in terrorism, no knowledge of al-Qaida, and was clearly making it up as it went along. This is all a bad made-for-TV movie.

[READ: FBI and NSA Tactics Threaten to Make Us Less Safe]

The problem, of course, is it undermines who we are as Americans, or who we think we are. As Church, put it, “beware of adopting the methods of your enemies, you will become more like them.”

If we as Americans truly believe that it is imperative for us to hold up the moral high ground, our actions must befit our words. To deny torture and simply use phrases like “enhanced interrogation techniques” is not only duplicitous but undermines that moral authority.

Now, as 40 years ago, it is time to correct our mistakes and acknowledge our own wrongdoing. That makes America stronger, not weaker.

The Republican’s Gridlock

Gridlock Only Gets You So Far

Voters will catch on to the fact that the GOP is using obstruction to win elections.

House Speaker John Boehner responds to President Barack Obama's intention to spare millions of illegal immigrants from being deported on Nov. 21, 2014, on Capitol Hill in Washington.

Voters will see what’s happening.

By Nov. 26, 2014 | 4:30 p.m. EST+ More–USNews Thomas Jefferson Street Blog

There are three reasons that the Republicans pursue gridlock: ideological purity, hatred of President Barack Obama and because it helps them win elections. The first two they may be able to get over, but not the third.

Republicans discovered in 2010 that by opposing anything and everything of any consequence that Obama proposed, gridlock would ensue and the public’s anger and cynicism toward Washington would grow. Rallying around the tea party’s themes and the deep economic frustrations from the near depression, they swept out incumbent Democrats by the score.

Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell made it known that his number one goal was the defeat of Obama in 2012. That did not work out so well, but the Republicans quickly pivoted to 2014, where there was clearly fertile ground to elect more of their party. Part and parcel of this strategy was to not pass any meaningful legislation on immigration reform, job creation, education, tax reform or to improve America’s infrastructure and, finally, doing their very best to rally the base against anything having to do with government. The growing anger towards Washington and the party in control of the presidency – the Democrats – provided another windfall.

The difference now is that the anger which pollsters determined in 2010 created a majority for “standing up for principle” has now shifted to “it’s time to compromise, to get things done.” In short, voters want government to work and are sick and tired of the obstruction and gridlock.

Despite their efforts to shift blame, the Republicans now are boxed in, because it is pretty clear that they are the problem, not the party proposing solutions. Norman Ornstein and Thomas Mann, respected political analysts, have laid this out very clearly in their writings, including the book “It’s Even Worse Than It Looks.” So even if Republicans decide that the “shut the government” caucus led by Texas Sen. Ted Cruz should be hidden away in the basement of the Capitol, they are still confronted with many political players who believe they were elected by being obstructionists.

The goal of the Democrats, then, should be to revise and reinvigorate the plans to legislate and solve America’s problems and convince the voters that the Congress, controlled by Republicans, is once again blocking progress. When the Republican leadership is convinced that gridlock is now a losing game politically, they may actually change their behavior. Their rigid ideology and their hatred for Obama will give way to a new political reality – the public is on to them and, much like President Harry Truman in 1948, the “do-nothing Congress” label will be laid at their feet.

The Republicans have to confront these past six years and change their behavior. They will only do so only if it becomes crystal clear that the public understands and is sick and tired of their embracing of Washington gridlock.


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