Opinion

The Great Debate

Can Congress control the CIA?

The current fight between the Senate Intelligence Committee and the CIA – each accuses the other of spying on it – is part of the deep, continuing struggle between the legislative and executive branches of government over the wide-ranging power of the intelligence agency in the post-9/11 world.

The immediate dispute is about the committee’s lengthy study of the CIA’s harsh interrogation policies, used during the Bush administration. But underlying all the charges and counter-charges is a larger question: Can Congress genuinely exercise  its authority if the intelligence agencies can classify, and so control, the committee’s oversight efforts?

The CIA has blocked the release of a powerful report from a duly constituted congressional committee, keeping it under “review” for 16 months. CIA officials claim the report contains many inaccuracies. Although President Barack Obama said Wednesday that he was “absolutely committed” to declassifying the report, he was vague on when he would do so.

The CIA reports to the president. Congress can exercise authority, however, because it controls the budget and it has responsibility to oversee  the intelligence agencies. Inevitably, those roles come into conflict as the Senate attempts to exert control over a powerful secret agency of the executive branch.

This power struggle burst into public view during the Church Committee hearings of the  mid-1970s. The Senate hearings stunned the nation with revelations about CIA assassination plots and illegal activities. The result was the creation of congressional committees designed to give the lawmakers greater control over intelligence.

Our fierce fight over torture

The new Congress versus the CIA battle over “hacking” Senate computers and “spying” isn’t about surveillance. It’s about torture.

We have never had a full reckoning for our government’s use of torture on terror suspects after September 11. There were no prosecutions of military officers or senior officials. (One soldier was imprisoned for abuse at the Abu Ghraib prison, former Corporal Charles Graner, while four officers received administrative demerits, not prosecution.) Remarkably, there has not even been a full release of classified government investigations into U.S. torture. It’s hard to get accountability in the dark.

That repressed history is the real context for the remarkable fight that spilled into public view when Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) spoke on the Senate floor on Tuesday.

Christie: Crossing the line

Back in the 1970s, a Jewish organization commissioned a poll to investigate anti-Semitism in the United States. The poll included several open-ended questions. One asked, “Is there anything in particular you like about Jewish people?” The answers were recorded verbatim.

One respondent — a worker from Pittsburgh — answered, “What I like about them is that they are hardworking, aggressive and know how to get ahead.” The next question asked, “Is there anything in particular you don’t like about Jewish people?” His answer: “They’re too pushy and aggressive.”

The puzzled interviewer asked, “Isn’t that what you just said you like about them?” The respondent answered, “Yes. What I like about them is also what I don’t like about them.”

Weiner: As American as political redemption

ILLUSTRATION: Matt Mahurin

“All the past we leave behind.” So insisted America’s poet, Walt Whitman, a man who would not be encompassed by any one identity — who refused to be constrained by birth, by place, by experience.

Americans, following Whitman, have long celebrated their nation as a redemptive land, a place where the past leaves few traces, where people possess almost infinite capacity to rewrite their own stories and restart their lives.

The nation’s politicians have long enjoyed the license to reinvent themselves that Whitman celebrated. From President William Henry Harrison, the Virginia aristocrat who recast himself as the “poor farmer of North Bend” summoned from his log cabin, to President George W. Bush, the Yale and Andover-trained preppie turned Texas oilman, they have fabricated entirely new identities. Even more remarkable, politicians ousted from office for a wide range of lies, scandals and even crimes have won re-election, sometimes from the very same voters that previously dismissed them.

Conservatives versus the GOP

President Ronald Reagan (L), President George W. Bush (R, Top) and George H.W. Bush (R, Bottom) Reuters/Files

The hoopla over the new George W. Bush Library in Dallas, as well as some gauzy looks back penned by former aides, shows we are in the middle of “The Great Bush Revisionism.” The former president is being lauded and congratulated. But for what?

A new examination of Bushism may be helpful because the current scandals in Washington are the symptoms of too much power and too much arrogance.

Right-wing talk shows turned White House blue

Talk isn’t cheap, as Republicans have learned. The conservative talk show culture is proving expensive for GOP presidential hopefuls.

Since Rush Limbaugh’s 1992 bestseller “The Way Things Ought to Be,” his conservative talk show politics have dominated GOP presidential discourse – and the Republicans’ White House fortunes have plummeted. But when the mainstream media reigned supreme, between 1952 and 1988, Republicans won seven out of the 10 presidential elections.

Conservative talk show hosts and Fox News blame the “lamestream” national media’s “liberal bias” for the GOP’s poor showing since 1992. Yet the rise of the conservative-dominated media defines the era when the fortunes of GOP presidential hopefuls dropped to the worst levels since the party’s founding in 1856.

The real fiscal cliff winner? Bush

“Tax relief is an achievement for families struggling to enter the middle class,” the president trumpeted, shortly after Congress, by sweeping bipartisan margins and after a bruising battle, had lowered taxes for almost all Americans.  “For hard-working lower income families, we have cut the bottom rate of federal income tax from 15 percent to 10 percent. We doubled the per-child tax credit to $1,000 and made it refundable. Tax relief is compassionate, and it is now on the way.”

Despite a furious counterattack from the opposition, the president had scored a major victory by securing lower tax rates for everyone in the middle class on down.

President Barack Obama last week after narrowly averting the fiscal cliff?  Nope, President George W. Bush in June 2001, signing the first set of his much-sought-after tax cuts. Perhaps the “compassionate” was a giveaway.

Where Karl Rove was right

Give Karl Rove a break. His meltdown on election night may not have been entirely about Fox News prematurely calling Ohio for President Barack Obama. After all, the poor guy had every right to get upset while watching the Republican Party nominee’s campaign crash and burn.

For all intents and purposes, Mitt Romney trampled on Rove’s once vaunted GOP playbook — and leaves a weakened GOP in his wake.

Once upon a time, Rove had hoped to build a big-tent Republican Party that would be well-poised to capture the support of a rapidly diversifying America. He was the mastermind behind George W. Bush’s Latino strategy, first when Bush won reelection as Texas governor in 1998 and again when he campaigned for the presidency in 2000. In ’98 Bush became the first Republican gubernatorial candidate in Texas to win overwhelmingly Mexican-American El Paso County. Two years later, he won a respectable 35 percent of the Latino vote nationally.

Delegitimization of Obama begins

 

The Republican drive to delegitimize President Barack Obama’s possible second term has started.

As recent polls have allowed for the possibility that Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney could win the popular vote while the president carries the Electoral College, the conservative blogosphere has lit up not only with long-overdue attacks on the Electoral College but also with the specious argument that a popular-vote loss for Obama will undermine his mandate and justify continued obstruction by Republican lawmakers.

Nonsense.

Under the Constitution, the Electoral College winner becomes president. Candidates know that when they plan their campaigns, and wise candidates could care less about the popular vote when they plot strategy and deploy resources. The popular vote, therefore, is a misleading measure of a candidate’s success or the strength of a mandate.

Will George W. Bush become a surprise Obama asset?

Whatever happened to George W. Bush? While 88-year-old George H.W. Bush still goes skydiving and chats about Justin Bieber with his granddaughter Jemma, the faux Texan who brought us two wars, waterboarding, an economic meltdown and record public borrowing is strangely missing. Just as well, you might think. What could he possibly say?

But George W. is a key witness in the trial of Barack Obama. Under attack from Mitt Romney for presiding over a stagnant economy, Obama blames his plight on the gaping hole in the country’s finances left by his predecessor. “Huge reckless bets were made with other people’s money,” Obama told an audience in Cleveland, this month. “And too many, from Wall Street to Washington, simply looked the other way.” Then, “in the fall of 2008 it all came tumbling down with a financial crisis that plunged the world into the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.”

Obama has made light of his sour inheritance, joking: “Some have said I blame too many problems on my predecessor, but let’s not forget that’s a practice that was initiated by George W. Bush.” But in invoking the ghost of George W. he is deadly serious. To be left nursing the worst economy since Herbert Hoover is no laughing matter. The figures for the Bush years suggest Obama has a lot to complain about. Whether you judge it by stock market prices, or the number of Americans in poverty, or median household income, or growth in public debt, or GDP growth, or job growth, or number of Americans without health insurance, Bush passed on to Obama an economy heading South.

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