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The Convention on the Rights of the Child is 25 years old: It's Time for America to Ratify

Samantha Nutt, MD   |   November 20, 2014    6:28 PM ET

New York in November. The zombie masks and ghoulish cut-outs that flooded stores from Bloomingdale's to Battery Park have been displaced by cartoon pilgrims, turkey decals and a seasonal carol or two. Tickets are being frantically booked and kitchen drawers methodically excavated for family recipes splattered with so many generations of cranberry sauce only a crime scene specialist could decipher them. The Rink at Rockefeller Centre is iced over. The holidays are here. Almost.

This year, Thanksgiving coincides with another watershed moment in history and one more reason to be thankful: 25 years ago, the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) became the most widely adopted human rights treaty in the world. In its own way, the CRC is also about family -- about protecting and upholding the rights of children and those who care for them. It endeavors to keep children under 18 free from harm, abuse, and neglect by setting standards for their equal treatment under international law. All but three countries in the world have ratified the CRC: South Sudan, Somalia and the United States (which is nevertheless a signatory). In the case of Somalia and South Sudan, both countries have been heavily embroiled in bitter civil wars since the Reagan Administration which, alongside that of George H. W. Bush, helped lead the drafting of the CRC. The difference between signing and ratifying is significant: Signing is an agreement in principle, whereas ratification is a commitment under international law.

President Obama has indicated that he would like to ratify the CRC and still has ample time left in his mandate to try to achieve what President Clinton also supported, but could not deliver on. And there's no good reason not to: Over the past decade, Supreme Court rulings on everything from the sentencing of minors to legislation governing the abuse and exploitation of children have brought the U.S. closer to full compliance on all aspects of the Convention. To flip this negative into a positive, then, if there is no reason not to ratify it, what are the reasons for ratifying it?

The CRC is an ideal, one which is realized imperfectly throughout the world. By articulating this vision for universality when it comes to children's rights, the CRC is in effect a barometer by which countries can measure themselves and in turn be measured by others: How are we doing? It is also an instrument by which groups like Boko Haram, ISIS and others who abuse and exploit children as sex slaves, forced laborers and child soldiers may someday be held to account.

This is not insignificant: When we acknowledge that such atrocities are war crimes committed against children, we are invoking the Convention, and in particular the later Optional Protocol, as well as the Treaty of Rome. War criminals such as Former Liberian President Charles Taylor, The Democratic Republic of Congo's Thomas Lubanga and the Lord's Resistance Army's Joseph Kony were all charged with crimes committed against children in violation of the CRC (though Kony remains at large). So if the U.S. stands behind protecting and upholding the rights of children in all contexts, then it is asserting the moral and legal authority of the CRC -- an authority which is undermined by their non-ratification.

There are other reasons to ratify it, too. The last few years have seen a massive erosion of the rights of children globally. They are being brutalized and killed in parts of Syria, Iraq, Nigeria, the Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan, the Central African Republic and in dozens of other "fragile states" with weak or corrupted governments. They are being taken from their classrooms, refugee camps, the streets and even from their family homes to serve as porters, soldiers, concubines and "wives" for rebel and other military groups who prey on their powerlessness and their fealty. They are being trafficked to drug lords, pimps, old rich men and war-lords.

Still, there are some encouraging signs that international governments remain committed to the CRC: extreme poverty has been halved -- a major achievement to realizing that Millennium Development Goal -- and most children in the developing world are now attending primary school. But these gains rarely reach children in "high risk" environments, especially countries at war. According to a 2014 USAID study on extreme poverty, the absolute number of people living on less than $1.25 per day in fragile states has remained unchanged since 1990, at 400 million.

Not surprisingly, half of all child deaths under five in poor countries also occur in these same locales. The war in Syria alone is estimated to have wiped out 35 years of development gains since 2011 that are essential to the survival, education and protection of Syrian children. And there are too many regions of the world right now -- including in Iraq, Afghanistan, Darfur, South Sudan, and Somalia -- where children as old as fourteen have never known what it means to live without abject fear.

What does this tell us? It tells us that ratifying the CRC is a necessary but not sufficient condition when it comes to protecting and upholding the rights of children worldwide. In 25 years, much has changed, but far too much has remained tragically the same or gotten worse. Children locked in a chronic state of war and violence are being excluded from the rights enshrined in the CRC to devastating effect.

U.S. ratification won't change this, but it's a positive step forward. What will change this is a sustained commitment to helping children and their families in war zones rebuild and recover so that the cycle can be broken and the CRC upheld. Not just emergency measures -- food, water, shelter, blankets, health care -- but investments in education, access to justice and economic development. It means shifting our ideas about humanitarian aid as a quick fix delivered by outsiders, and thinking instead about what families need and want for their children over the long term: To keep them safe and to see them thrive.

War and abuse may have robbed children and families of their past, but it should not rob them of their futures as well. Those looking for opportunities for post-partisan collaboration after the recent Congressional election could do worse than starting with ratification of an instrument both parties have already expressed support for.

'Mommy, Are You Eating Chocolate?'

Samaneh Kleopatra Zarabi   |   November 11, 2014   10:33 PM ET

"Mommy... what are you eating?" my son asked.

Damn it, I was busted. He interrupted me exactly at the moment I was just about to bite a crunchy chocolate caramel (one of the only sweets I eat happens to be a Swedish Chocolate, which is a rare find in Cleveland!).

I turned around and with a look of guilt asked if he wanted a bite. Of course he said yes, and while reaching to grab the whole chocolate he said, "I thought we only eat ONE unhealthy snack per day, mommy!"

He was right. This is our rule. We eat our healthy food... and if we have any unhealthy food we choose one per day and hopefully once in a while.

Today, however, my so-many-sleepless nights had caught up with me (and this time it's not because of the news, but because of my sick younger son). My sweet-resistant nature was taken over by my need for any sort of sustenance and I ate three chocolates (which, considering my dislike for sweets, was extraordinary).

However, when interrupted by my son, I tried to encourage myself by thinking that I deserved to treat myself after such a hard week. I just had to indulge my sleep-deprived self, right?

Now wait a minute... anyone who indulges without resistance can make an argument for his or her weak nature. There are perfectly self-regulated people that behave in accordance to well-thought-out plans of action in many aspects of their life; yet, they end up shockingly "will-fatigued" in other aspects.

For example, although President Clinton was absolutely a picture-perfect student and must have had tremendous self-regulation to make his way to the White House, he was nevertheless very weak and unregulated when it came to his intern.

So what happens to those types of people? Right now, who cares about those people, frankly, because really I'm talking about myself here! Have I become the president who prefers to relax with the intern after a long and difficult day?

We always have an excuse for our actions. The feeling of "I deserve some fun because I am entitled to the reward" could be part of the problem faced by people like President Clinton (and, right now, myself). At the end of the day, however, if Clinton had a stronger self-regulation skill and actually used it, it wouldn't matter how entitled he might have felt -- he could have exercised his resistance to "harmful" rewards...1 and he might have ended up going to bed with Hilary and watching John Stewart -- instead of being a joke on the show.

Going back to my problem here, my sleepless nights have given me the right to go for not one but three chocolates because I deserved them. Now this is alarming!!

Why?

Because I set the rules at our home and if I can't play by the rules then how can I expect my children to be conscientious and self-directed?

What if it's not about the chocolate, or cleaning up after myself... washing my hands every time I come home, and not using the phone at the dining table? What if we're talking about things like no texting and driving, wearing a helmet when biking, not cheating when playing, and not hurting another person no matter how stressed or sad my own mood and feelings may be?

What if my children witness my husband or I breaking one of these rules? What if every time I lose self-control, I justify it with some external unrelated or (even related) cause?

Some would argue that this is a perfect example of abusing parental power by creating arbitrary rules that apply only to my children and not to me, the parent. Indeed, this is true, and thank you for pointing it out.

When I broke my own chocolate rule, I showed disloyalty to my own rule and, most importantly, to my son. Every time that I model a positive behavior, I demonstrate strength of character. I reinforce my own set of rules that become common and regular behavior no matter how silly the rule is.

Because if I don't model positive behavior, I shouldn't be surprised when my sons text and drive, get expelled for cheating on a test or become a bully at school. After all, I set the standard -- even if it was with something seemingly less significant like eating extra sweets.

This is not to say that every child that witnesses an erroneous behavior will repeat the unwanted action. But, role models play a great part in everyone's life. And, this is especially true when the model is as loved and respected as parents usually are to small children.

The old-age wisdom of the Greek Philosopher Aristotle defined a virtuous character not only as one that possesses attractive inner characteristics but also one that acts accordingly.2 After all, we become just by acting just repeatedly and consciously.

At the core of virtuous ethics lies moral education and development. 3

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Early on, children rely on excellent role modeling to develop moral actions. The virtue of character becomes a stable personality trait by proper guidance, correction and repeated action. The effectiveness of consistency between modeling of our preaching has been documented in recent research as well.*4 Children who were guided by consistency in action as well as verbal guidance were the ones who had more "stringent standards for self-reward."5

One more chocolate today might not harm anyone, but an accident caused by a texting driver could have devastating irreversible effects.

So, maybe the next time my child says, "Mom, you didn't brush your teeth..." instead of answering "yes" with my fingers crossed behind my back, I should just say, "You are right. I was waiting for you to do it together!"

And maybe Aristotle would argue here that I'm on my way to set the stage for true happiness in my children and myself. After all, isn't it the cultivation of the virtues that makes our lives complete?


1.Mischel, W., The marshmallow test : mastering self-control. 2014, New York: Little, Brown and Company.
2.Nicomachean Ethics, BOOK II By Aristotle Written 350 B.C.E Translated by W. D. Ross
3.Virtue Ethics at http://www.iep.utm.edu/virtue/
4.Effects of discrepancies between observed and imposed reward criteria on their acquisition and transmission. Mischel, Walter; Liebert, Robert M. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol 3(1), Jan 1966, 45-53.
5.Ibid.1, p.224

Alison Lundergan Grimes May Have Found Mitch McConnell's Weak Spot

Jason Cherkis   |   October 30, 2014    5:05 PM ET

WASHINGTON -- With Alison Lundergan Grimes down in almost every poll in a tight race against Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, her success may hinge on whether she can bring Paducah, a small city more than three hours west of Louisville, into her camp.

Paducah has long been a lynchpin in McConnell's simple but effective "west of Interstate 65" strategy. McConnell, who started his career as a political moderate, has pursued a campaign strategy that depends on winning over the counties west of I-65, the highway that bisects Kentucky from Louisville in the north to the Tennessee border in the south. McCracken County, which covers Paducah, didn't swing McConnell's way when he was first elected to the Senate in 1984. But the county soon fell into McConnell's column and has remained there ever since.

McConnell has relied on a Cold War-era uranium facility for the core of his support. The plant helped put Paducah on the map, and the town's identity has long been tied to it. Paducah called itself "The Atomic City" during the postwar years, and murals celebrating its 1950s heyday still line the town's floodwall along the Ohio River. By the mid-1980s, however, the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant had become a relic. As similar facilities were shuttered in other states, McConnell pitched himself as the one man who could work the Senate to keep the plant open.

This is the first campaign in which the plant could be a liability for him. After decades of decline, it finally shut down this year, when the last of its more than 1,000 operators were laid off.

In a recent campaign ad, Grimes used the Paducah plant as a backdrop. "You want to know the difference between Mitch McConnell and me?" she says directly into the camera. "Just look at the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant ... He'd just show up at election time and say he'd saved the plant. Now it's shutting down anyway."

Grimes has visited the county at least eight times since launching her campaign, pounding away at Paducah's economic trouble. The city's 7.8 percent unemployment rate is above both the state and national rates, and was nearly 10 percent as recently as February. The old plant workers may be swayed by Grimes' message.

"They are taking a different view of the senior senator," said Jim Key, vice president of the local steelworkers union to which the plant workers belonged.

Paducah isn't a hotbed for hardline anti-government conservatism. Mayor Gayle Kaler praises McConnell for delivering federal dollars to her beleaguered town. McConnell's pitch to the town has relied on the same -- keeping the plant open with federal money, and helping to start a program that provides free health care to workers who had been poisoned working in the facility's hazardous conditions.

In 2013, The Huffington Post outlined how McConnell ignored the toxic conditions that hurt plant employees and polluted the surrounding wells and waterways. In her ad, Grimes cited the story in making a similar point. "Mitch did nothing about the radiation problems for over a decade while workers got sick," Grimes says in her ad.

McConnell actually went much further. The senator voted in 1988 to prevent sick workers from seeking legal redress for being poisoned. The McConnell campaign did not respond to a request for comment.

Republicans know McConnell is vulnerable here. The status quo isn't good, and McConnell has been the senator for 30 years. So they're doing all they can to pin the town's economic doldrums on Obama, who is wildly unpopular in the state -- and to tie him to Grimes and any Democrat they can.

Voters are even getting mailers from multiple GOP-affiliated groups attempting to tie little-known state Rep. Gerald Watkins (D-McCracken) to Barack Obama. The flyer claimed "a vote for Gerald Watkins is a vote for Obamacare." The mailers can be seen here and here.

Watkins, who teaches at a community college, thinks the attempt to associate him with the president comes from a single meeting he had with then-Sen. Obama in 2006, after which he told a reporter he thought Obama was intelligent. Watkins told HuffPost that the flyer's Obamacare claim is "ridiculous." "It's a federal law," he said. "I'm at the state level."

Watkins thinks the plant's closure could be a problem for McConnell. "It could very well impact the election, because he's always championed the workers there and helped keep the plant open for all these years," he said.

At a recent visit to Paducah, Grimes brought former President Bill Clinton to stump on her behalf at a campaign event in the McCracken County High School gym. Principal Michael Ceglinski, who attended the event, said the transformation of his gym into a political pep rally was amazing, a temporary spark amid the plant layoffs that he said have affected the school.

Ceglinski said some of his students had to leave the school when their parents were laid off and had to move away. "Some of my closest friends have lost their jobs there, and you struggle with them," he said. "You hurt for them and their families. You go through it emotionally."

The battle for Paducah may hinge not on Grimes' economic message but on the city's nostalgia for Clinton's economic record. Democrats have cited Clinton's appearance on the campaign trail as a key factor in whatever success Grimes may have in her own "west of I-65" strategy. Clinton, who carried Kentucky twice, is one of the most popular political figures in the state. Even Paducah's Republican mayor admitted to admiring Clinton.

"He was actually a good president," Kaler said. "Our economy was going good when he was president ... Actually wish we had more people in government like him."

Do Ask, Do Tell

G. Benjamin Bingham   |   October 27, 2014    9:40 PM ET

Good people have been hurt trying to invest with positive impact in mind because of things they did not know. Maybe they were okay with it because the cause was worth supporting, but if they knew better the losses may have been avoided. Good luck in investing, as in all things, occurs when preparation meets opportunity. Knowing what is knowable is part of that preparation. Curiosity and good questioning is one pathway to knowing; the opposite policy of "Don't ask, Don't tell" leads to the ignorance emblematic of the worst cultural patterns of the 1990's. It was practiced in the financial world as well as in the military, and it was practiced in the Whitehouse. It was an excuse to stay in the dark as if "what you don't know won't hurt you." Now we need to know. Transparency rules.

I came to this line of thought partly because curiosity led me to click on the video of Monica Lewinsky in her first public presentation of the "real" Monica Lewinsky for the Forbes Under 30 Summit. There's an obvious contradiction there since she is presenting herself publicly and virtually, but if she wanted to change her public persona by doing this, she succeeded.

She came across as real, someone with real feelings, someone who accepted that she did harm to others and "that's never right," and someone who had to deal with people trying to shut her up "who would never shut up" as she put it. She appeared to be courageous even. And unless I was projecting, this courage has led to some self-knowledge. This was at moments beautiful to perceive.

Online bullying was her theme and her concern for those who have been hurt, and so many have been hurt, was apparently genuine. She was moved by an individual who took his own life due to public humiliation and this moved her because her own battle with suicide was potent.

As the first to be publicly humiliated on the Internet, Monica presented herself as a kind of historical figure, world-renowned and a victim of public abuse for the last ten years. Her decision to turn it around is admirable whether or not it is fully genuine. Who is to know?

We are all partly real, partly unreal, partly virtual, partly ourselves. Every moment is mixed in that way. We perceive what we think we perceive and remember what we think we remember. What we actually see in reality may not be reality for another. Which things we remember may be very personal and subjective. What seems most real and maybe is most real is something indefinable that rays out from each of us and can be read imperceptibly as genuine, moving, interesting or false and contradictory.

Much of what we perceive is due to attitude and upbringing; much is self-fulfilling prophecy: what we get is what we expect. The virtual humans of the future may have an advantage here since they will likely be programmed to be super achievers with positive attitude and no thought of failure...but then they won't really be human will they?

Our least human trait is our adamant conviction that we know something and will fight for it even if we could with some effort face the fact that we are wrong. Knowing ourselves and knowing the world on the deepest level is profoundly human. It is conceptually powerful. It is generative and healing. It is good luck.

Recently we got up to see the full moon because we knew we would see the eclipse and we live where we can see the starry heavens. It was extraordinary to watch the shadow of the earth cross over the surface of the moon slowly. We know that light shining through the darkness creates warm yellow to red. What we were astonished to see was when the surface was completely covered by the earth's shadow it still reflected light from the warm surface's glowing to create complex colors. The next morning it was called the "blood moon." Now I can barely picture it as it was...so profoundly alive and aligned with my sun and my earth.

We would not have seen the eclipse if we did not know where to look in the sky, did not know what was going on, could not see for the city lights. How much do we miss in life because we do not know about it? How much do we limit experience because we perceive only what we expect or are told to expect.

What we don't know may hurt us. What hurts most is what you don't see coming. This is the case with online bullying, was true when Monica at 22 fell in love with a President, and is true when investments fail.

If you are trying to change the world with money, by investing in products and services that you think are good, you cannot ask too many questions. If you are a fund manager or consultant, an advisor or a pundit, be honest about what you know and don't know. Do tell.

Can the US Seize Would-Be Jihadis' Passports?

Peter Van Buren   |   October 14, 2014   12:27 PM ET

Can the U.S. government seize the passports of American citizens who it believes may travel abroad to join ISIS or other terror groups? Yep. The process is almost no-cost to the government, it's extra-judicial, it can be made secret, and it requires a lengthy court process to even try to contest. No passport, no international travel: the ultimate no-fly tool against would-be jihadis. So why hasn't this process been used more often?

Scary Stories

Leaving aside the not-insubstantial questions about their validity, the warnings are ominous.

With some Americans seeking to join ISIS, there are fears that on their return they may commit terror in the U.S. Unlike foreign citizens, these radicalized Americans would sail through immigration checks and be able to easily disappear into a familiar society. The U.S. is seeking to tackle the problem at the supply end, preventing Americans from departing to join ISIS in the first place, as well as from the other side, blocking citizens from returning freely to the United States.

The arrest at O'Hare Airport of Mohamed Khan, a 19-year-old U.S. citizen, is one example. Authorities claim the young man headed to the Middle East to join ISIS, and, citing a left-behind note explaining his choice, waited at the airport to arrest Khan on charges of attempting to provide material support for a terrorist organization. The operation involved significant law enforcement resources to stop one teenager based largely on suspicion.

Another Tool in the Box

The United States can simply seize passports from American citizens if "The Secretary of State determines that the applicant's activities abroad are causing or are likely to cause serious damage to the national security or the foreign policy of the United States."

The law allows this prospectively, the "or are likely to cause" part of the law, meaning the person needn't have done anything. The government just needs to think they might.

A Judicial Watch Freedom of Information Act request revealed that prior to Obama ordering him and his 16-year-old son to be killed by a drone in 2011, then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton secretly revoked the passport of Anwar al-Awlaki, alleged al Qaeda propagandist and U.S. citizen. The two would not have been able to travel to the United States without handing themselves over to law enforcement. Indeed, a letter to that effect was allegedly sent to some address in Yemen inviting al-Awlaki to visit the American Embassy to discuss the details.

Al-Awlaki isn't the only person in Yemen to have his U.S. passport seized.

According to information obtained through a U.S. government whistleblower involved directly with U.S.-Yemeni affairs, the American embassy in Sanaa, Yemen seized over one hundred U.S. passports from Yemeni-Americans (some place the number at 500 passports) between 2011 and 2013. Only after several legal battles did the State Department curtail its actions. Though State publicly claims the seizures were an anti-fraud measure, many in the Yemeni community saw them as a pilot program.

A similar case involved the seizure of a Moroccan-American's passport in Kuwait.

The actions at the American embassy in Yemen may fit into a larger pattern. For example, at the same time in 2011 the U.S. was ramping up its actions against Yemeni-Americans, Australia appeared to be doing much the same thing. "Withholding passports is an important means of preventing Australians from traveling overseas to train, support or participate in terrorism," an Australian government spokesperson said. "It may also be used to help prevent an Australian already overseas from participating in activities that are prejudicial to the security of Australia or another country."

How are Passport Seizures Legal?

Restrictions on travel suffered under the British were part of the list of "injuries and usurpations" in the Declaration of Independence. So don't Americans have a right to travel?

Nope. The precedent was set by infamous ex-CIA officer Philip Agee, who in the 1970s exposed CIA officers identities. It was in Agee's case that the Supreme Court coldly affirmed that "The right to hold a passport is subordinate to national security and foreign policy considerations." A lower court put it even more bluntly: "The Secretary [of State] may preclude potential matches from the international tinderbox."

The basic premise is that travel abroad (travel within the U.S. is specifically provided for in the Constitution, though the No-Fly list certainly can limit one's options) is that it is an "aspect" of liberty subject to restraint under due process. In the 1950's, American Communists were often denied passports if their travel abroad was believed to be in support of their political beliefs, a policy later overturned by the Supreme Court. The Court struggled to balance national security and personal liberty regarding travel through multiple cases, but has never concluded that travel -- or having a passport -- is a fundamental right.

Some History

The whole concept of Americans requiring passports to travel has its roots in national security restrictions. With the exception of roughly the years of the Civil War and World War I, Americans did not need a passport to enter the United States. Americans were first required as a group to hold passports at the start of the Second World War. The travel requirements instituted in the past only during times of national crisis stuck around after WWII through the present day, formalized in the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952. With echoes of current government actions, what was created as a wartime contingency morphed into a permanent peacetime restriction. The history of passport restrictions is not long, but does resonate into the post-9/11, Post-Constitutional era.

While no right to travel per se exists for Americans, there is a basic assumption, rooted in the Citizenship Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and the due process clause of the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution that Americans have something between an expectation, an entitlement and an implied right to return to the United States from abroad, rooted in the concept of citizenship. The ease with which passports can be seized (or boarding an aircraft denied via the No-Fly list) is not seen in conflict; in al-Awlaki's case, he would have been welcome to come home, albeit in leg irons en route to federal SuperMax. Time is also an issue. How long the government may make a citizen wait before allowing a return to the U.S. under some specific circumstances is not codified and thus can be used as a de facto seizure or punishment without raising a case publicly.

Why Doesn't the Government Seize More Passports?

In short, for an American citizen to travel abroad, whether for vacation or jihad, the government's permission, in the form of a passport, is required. So why then does the government not use such a long-tested authority to deny or seize the passports of those suspected for traveling to join terror groups?

While the real answer is obviously unknowable, several ideas may help explain this. First is that in fact such measures might be taking place. Persons who have not yet applied for a passport may find themselves denied issuance, and applications may have been denied or "in processing" without the applicant knowing the reason. The government is under no obligation to tell the person involved nor the media that national security has been invoked.

More likely however, it is a matter of legal timidity and public relations. Arresting and trying someone for material support for terrorism is something of a set-piece case for post-9/11 law enforcement. There is little legal controversy generated, and almost no danger under present circumstances of any nasty precedent being set. Wide-spread passport seizures could easily create a new chance to bring the issue before the Supreme Court, risky business for a government that much prefers to act as it wishes vis-a-vis Americans' rights.

The other reason for restraint may simply be public relations. The public is familiar and appears supportive of arrests. Law enforcement in these circumstances are the good guys. Passport seizures sound a bit harsh, totalitarian-like, and are technically done under the authority of the Department of State, who does not enjoy the good guy reputation many attribute to the law enforcement people who "keep us safe." It could be as simple as law enforcement not being willing to work with the State Department for bureaucratic reasons.

Regardless, these are dark seas. In a democracy, the right of citizens to depart and return should not on its face be restricted in the interest of the government. The idea of limiting an American citizen's travel proactively, on the assumption that she or he will end up fighting with ISIS based on documents or web postings, scrapes at liberty, even if the tools are there and it is legal to use them.

By KEN THOMAS   |   October 11, 2014   11:27 AM ET

WASHINGTON (AP) — The White House made a public push to defend President Bill Clinton during a series of investigations related to the Whitewater real estate deal to his affair with intern Monica Lewinsky, according to thousands of pages of documents released by the National Archives.

The documents, part of 10,000 pages of records from the Clinton administration released Friday, did not appear to reveal any new information that might affect a potential Hillary Rodham Clinton presidential campaign. But the papers focused on a number of painful chapters in the former first lady's time in the White House and described how the president's aides sought to defend her husband against impeachment.

Many records involving Lewinsky are redacted, but one document sheds light on her job: Lewinsky sent an official request to hang a picture of Clinton, signing a telecommunications bill, in a White House legislative affairs office.

Behind the scenes, Clinton officials were adamant that they were not trying to discredit Lewinsky.

"There is no evidence whatsoever that the White House was directing or involved in any campaign against her," Clinton aide Sidney Blumenthal wrote in a January 1999 memo.

In another email, Blumenthal derides Linda Tripp, a former White House aide who secretly recorded Lewinsky discussing the president.

But the case caused political tensions. An aide notes in one document that then-Maryland Gov. Parris Glendening, a Democrat, explained "why he felt he needed to distance himself" from Clinton.

The papers touch on the 1993 death of deputy White House counsel Vincent Foster, the Whitewater investigation into Bill and Hillary Clinton's land dealings in Arkansas, and pardons Bill Clinton granted in his final hours as president.

With these documents the National Archives will have released about 30,000 pages of papers since February. Both the Obama White House and the Clinton Presidential Library in Little Rock, Arkansas, signed off on their release.

The papers show that the Republican-led investigation into Foster's suicide infuriated the White House, which tried to recruit bestselling author William Styron to write a piece critical of the probe. It is unclear if the piece was ever published.

Elena Kagan, now a Supreme Court justice, makes a cameo appearance.

As a White House counsel, Kagan defended Bill Clinton in the lawsuit brought by ex-Arkansas state employee Paula Jones. Clinton's testimony for the Jones lawsuit, in which he denied a sexual relationship with Lewinsky, led to his impeachment in 1998. The House approved two articles of impeachment against Clinton, but he was acquitted by the Senate.

In a 1996 memo to then-White House counsel Jack Quinn, Kagan says, "I realize now that I may have really (messed) up" in not passing on word of a conversation in connection with an upcoming appearance related to the Jones case on the CNN show "Crossfire." Kagan used another verb in the memo, one that's more profane. "God, do I feel like an idiot," she added.

Hillary Clinton's influence in the White House is also explored, from her role in Clinton's unsuccessful health care overhaul plan to her 2000 Senate campaign in New York. Bill Clinton left office in January 2001.

The memos offer only a narrow look at her Senate race — discussion among lawyers and staff over paying for political travel.

But some are devoted to one of the Clintons' longest-running political roller coasters: the Whitewater real estate saga. As the case threatened to mushroom into a scandal, the president, first lady and their circle of advisers hatched a strategy to convince the public the Clintons had done nothing wrong — and had nothing to hide.

Some advocates, suggesting the Clintons step before the cameras to make their case, provided a point-by-point primer.

"In this situation, the Clintons' attitude is their message. They must be relaxed, open and forthcoming. Any sense of bitterness, anger or righteous indignation will not work," said a March 11, 1994, memo written by Clinton adviser Paul Begala. "No matter how justified some of our feelings on this may be, this will be the first time most Americans will hear directly from the president and first lady."

"Discussion of plots, pain and personal injustice could strike some viewers as self-serving or just plain weird," he continued. "The most important point to stress is that we have nothing to hide, we are fully complying with an independent investigation."

The Clintons were never implicated in the Whitewater case, but their real estate partners, Jim and Susan McDougal, were convicted in a trial that also resulted in the conviction of then-Arkansas Gov. Jim Guy Tucker.

The documents touch on financier Marc Rich, who was indicted on fraud and other charges in 1983. He fled to Switzerland and was later pardoned on Clinton's last day in office. Quinn, who had left the White House by then, suggests in a handwritten note that Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak discussed a pardon directly with Clinton.

Past installments of the documents have offered an unvarnished look at Clinton's two terms, detailing his unsuccessful attempt to change the health care system, Republicans' sweeping victories in the 1994 midterm elections and the shaping of his wife's public image.

Hillary Clinton, who went on to serve as a senator from New York and as President Barack Obama's secretary of state, now is a powerful advocate for Democrats in the midterm elections and the leading Democratic prospect for president in 2016.

The possibility of a presidential campaign has heightened interest in the documents by media organizations, political opposition researchers and historians.

___

Associated Press writers Alan Fram, Donna Cassata, Calvin Woodward, Charles Babington, Steve Peoples, Ronnie Greene and Stephen Braun in Washington; Jill Colvin in Toronto; Nicholas Riccardi in Denver; Bill Barrow in Atlanta; and Kelly Kissel in Little Rock, Arkansas, contributed to this report.

Feminism Is on Life Support But We May Be Able to Save It

Melanie Batley   |   September 24, 2014    8:30 PM ET

The Democrats have decided they're going big on "women's issues" this election year. Last week Hillary Clinton, flanked by other female Democratic politicians, called on voters to make it a "political movement." Achieving economic equality and full participation by women in the labor force, Clinton insisted, is the next frontier for women today.

It's unclear whether this is an attempt to engender a new wave of feminism or a political ploy to scoop up the women's vote, but the movement will go nowhere if feminists insist on defining women's issues in this way.

For a start, the vast majority of people don't want to be associated with the feminist movement. A full 75 percent of Americans say they reject the feminist label to describe themselves, including 65 percent of women, according to a recent Economist/ YouGov poll.

On top of that, 26 percent of the population considers the word "feminism" an insult. Even among those who view the term neutrally, the poll found a long list of negative qualities people ascribe to it including, pushy, misguided, stupid, fighters, aggressive, selfish, and crazy.

So why has a movement that gave Western women the right to vote, achieved legal equality, and parity in access to jobs and higher education come to be so reviled?

I have a few ideas.

For a start, maybe feminism has simply lost its femininity. Maybe the strident tone of yesterday's feminists poisoned the attractiveness of the movement today. Maybe some of the ranting and raving during the second wave of feminism made it all seem, well, a little unbecoming.

Whether today's feminists like it or not, many women embrace the softer qualities of our gender and understand they actually contribute to our strength or empowerment as women. Most of us do not feel we are being oppressed by a patriarchy or exploited by men. Some of us, I dare say, quite like men.

In other words, maybe the voices of the few have drowned out the sensibilities of the many.

Now I don't want to belabor the point because I think there is a much larger reason why the women's movement has fallen out of favor.

The messages of feminists simply aren't resonating because they focus almost exclusively on women's roles in the workplace, pay equity, and issues of sexual violence.

Today's feminist thinkers largely refuse to discuss the single most defining struggle for most women today and that is the difficulty of balancing all of our choices. Choices between motherhood and family versus work and career advancement. Choices, ironically, that we were given by the victories of yesterday's feminists.

My theory is that most feminists do not open this dialogue because it would require them to acknowledge there are innate differences between men and women in our preferences and behavior. To do so would undermine the dogma that men and women are the same, and that any differences are due to discrimination, social conditioning, or worse, unconscious submission to subjugation.

The reality is that men and women are not the same. Aside from the wide range of biological and psychological differences proven by scientists across numerous disciples, when it comes to work and family, men and women simply want different things.

For example, one national survey found that a greater percentage of women than men want to work part time. Specifically, 62 percent of American working mothers say they would prefer to work part-time, compared to 72 percent of working fathers who say they prefer to work full-time, even though mothers are now the sole or primary breadwinners in 40 percent of households with children under the age of 18.

Working women were also found to value "family friendly" policies more than working men, and are more likely to prioritize non-financial benefits in jobs, compared to men who prioritize higher earnings.

Meanwhile, feminists remain curiously silent on the critical social roles women have as mothers and wives--roles that continue to be embraced by the vast majority of women.

I've often thought today's movement could benefit from drawing on the wisdom of some of the earliest feminists from 19th century Britain. Separate to the suffragettes, there was a strain of feminism that championed the innate and valuable roles women have as nurturers and caregivers. These activists understood that care-giving in the context of the family is crucial to the well-being of society, the upbringing of children, and the character of generations to come.

Mary Sumner comes to mind as my favorite example. She rallied for motherhood to be recognized as a vocation, equal to, if not more important, than all of the professions then occupied only by men. You will not see her name on the roster of Women's Studies classes.

Judging by the importance many of today's women place on balancing work with family obligations, I wonder whether those feminists were more progressive than today's brigade who continues to fixate on dubious wage gap figures and smashing glass ceilings.

In that vein, I would argue that for all the advances women have achieved, today's feminists will never gain traction if they refuse to address the concerns of the silent majority that is struggling to balance all of its opportunities.

The time has come to write a new chapter for feminism. One that aims to support a wide range of women's choices both professionally and socially, not the narrow ends defined by feminists who insist economic parity and equal outcomes to men are the only desirable goals.

Achieving those ends will involve pushing for policies that support women both at work and at home. I hope it will also mean challenging the entire structure of the modern workplace, giving women the flexibility they need to balance the decisions that are right for them in a society that cares about meeting the needs of children and families.

These are the real areas where the women's movement can make an impact today, and it's time for feminists to start discussing it.

So, where should we begin the conversation? I propose we start with the age old question, "What do women want?"

@melaniebatley

Race and Repentance in America

  |   August 18, 2014    9:54 PM ET

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Republicans Again Violate Their Own Principles

David Morris   |   July 26, 2014    1:08 PM ET

By the time you read this, Congressional Republicans will have overwhelmingly voted to violate one of their most cherished guiding principles: A service should be paid for by those who use the service. If we don't fully pay for services, Republicans usually insist, markets can't work effectively.  We undervalue and overuse services, resulting in wasteful overspending.

All of which makes the debate about renewing and replenishing the months-long federal highway trust fund so revealing. This spring Republicans made clear their position:  No new taxes.  Rep. Dave Camp (R-MI), speaking for himself and his party declared, "I do not support, and the House will not support, billions of dollars in higher taxes to pay for more spending" on transportation.

Camp's position might be reasonable if he and his fellow Republicans were at the same time willing to abide by another of their basic principles: Live within your budget.  If you don't have the money, don't spend it.  In this instance, if drivers are unwilling to pay the road budget then cut federal highway spending by 28 percent, which would reduce overall national road spending by about 7 percent.

But Republicans don't want to cut road expenditures.  They just don't want drivers to pay.  The result has been months devising strategies to divert money from other sources.  In May, in a memo to rank and file House Speaker John Beohner (R-OH), Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) and Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) insisted they had come up with a perfect "way to ensure continued funding of highway projects in a fiscally responsible manner." They would make up the highway-financing gap by eliminating Saturday postal delivery!  To ensure that the roads are adequate for delivering the mail they will no longer deliver the mail.

Eventually Republicans decided that sacrificing the post office to ensure that drivers could use the roads more cheaply was politically unworkable.

By now I know many readers are asking, "What about Democrats?"  After all, the House proposal was passed by a bipartisan vote of 367-55.  True. But Democrats swear no fealty to the proposition that all services should, whenever possible, be fully paid by users.   They believe I should pay for the public library even if I don't use it.  I should pay for the public park even if I don't use it. They believe these are public goods available always to all.  Republicans, or at least Republicans circa 2014 don't seem to believe there are public goods.

Certainly some aspects of roads may be considered public goods. Even those who don't drive may need them to deliver fire or police protection or ambulance services.  Which would argue that some part of the road budget could justifiably come from the general public purse.

But the Republicans don't make that argument.  And if they did they would have to confront the fact that there are public costs as well as public benefits to roads.  The environmental damages caused by driving, for example, far outweigh the taxes paid at the pump.  To redress these damages some propose raising the gas tax by $1 or $2 per gallon or more. Republicans refuse to even entertain the notion.  If they are so ideologically hidebound that they won't even require drivers to pay for their roads, how could they possibly ask them to pay for the actual damages caused by their driving?

Republicans have not always been willing to so quickly violate basic conservative economic principles.  Prior to l956 highways were financed directly from the federal Treasury.  Then in 1956, at the insistence of Republican President Dwight D. Eisenhower the Highway Trust Fund was established with revenue generated from a dedicated fuel tax.  The original tax was 3 cents per gallon.  Republican Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush each raised the tax by 5 cents per gallon. In 1993, President Clinton raised it by a little over 4 cents.  And there, at 18.4 cents per gallon, it has remained for the last 21 years.

In 2008 the highway trust fund experienced a shortfall, a result of reduced driving due to sky-high oil prices.  Congress made up the shortfall with $8 billion from general funds.  In 2009 and 2010, Congress again supplied general funds.

The hope was that eventually Congr,ess would develop a long term funding plan that would include a gas tax increase.   In 2013 none other than the U.S. Chamber of Commerce supported such a move.  The Republicans would have none of it.

Washington Republicans are not the only ones violating the user pays principle.  The Tax Foundation estimates that overall state and local governments finance only 32 percent out of user fees.  Federal funding brings this total up to 50 percent.  The rest comes out of general funds.  In the case of cities the majority comes from property taxes.

Recently states, Republican as well as Democrat have begun raising gas taxes.  Eighteen states currently impose a gasoline sales tax whose revenue rises with gas prices or pegs the tax to the rate of inflation.  But 16 states have not raised their gas taxes for two decades or more.  Recently Wyoming raised its gas tax for the first time in 16 years. New Hampshire hiked its gas tax for the first time in 23 years.  But states and cities have a long way to go before they could consider their transportation funding mechanisms self-sustaining.

By the time you read this, Congress may have jimmy rigged a temporary solution to the highway funding shortfall.  Which means we get to have the same debate again next year.  Perhaps Republicans will propose slashing food stamps or Medicare or Pell grants.  Anything to avoid having to require those who use the roads to pay for the roads.


Image:  Dan Reed, Creative Commons

Another Bend of the Arc Towards Justice

Dana Beyer   |   July 23, 2014   12:59 PM ET

On Monday the president, "by the authority vested in [him] by the Constitution and laws of the United States of America," signed two Executive Orders. The first made explicit, as said by the president, anti-discrimination protections in the federal workforce based on gender identity. The second, and more important one, extended the federal contractor anti-discrimination protections to the entire LGBT community.

The first EO simply amended a previous one -- 11478 -- as ordered by President Clinton in 1998, and the second one simply amended 11246, which had originated with President Franklin Roosevelt and been expanded by Presidents Eisenhower and then Johnson in 1965.

I say "simply" for several reasons. The first is because the best law is the simplest and most elegant; i.e., the Bill of Rights. President Obama simply added four words -- sexual orientation & gender identity -- to 11246, and two words -- gender identity -- to 11478. So simple to take protections which are already in existence and working on behalf of many and expand them to include others in great need of the same.

Also, however, simply because they provide trans and gay persons with the same protections of the previously protected classes and retain the previous religious exemptions, based on the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which have been in place since 1965. While the religious conservatives have been trying for many years to carve out larger and larger exemptions for themselves, and doing so with increasing success in both Congress and the courts, these Orders are exemplars of the best from the past. They provide more than adequate ministerial exemptions and nothing more, showing respect for the First Amendment.

With the recent debate over the expanded religious exemptions written into the stalled current and earlier forms of ENDA, the Employment Nondiscrimination Act, the LGBT community was concerned the president might expand the exemptions in the previous Executive Orders based on Title VII. But with input from our best legal minds, led by Professor Tobias Wolff of the University of Pennsylvania and his colleagues throughout academia and the advocacy community, the president heard our voices and continued the best of America's tradition of the separation of church and state.

I would also like to note that while trans persons were explicitly added to these two Orders, we had already been implicitly covered by this administration. We were covered in the federal workforce due to regulations first promulgated in 2009 and then again via the Macy decision in 2012, and in the federal contractor worksphere thanks to that same Macy decision and the relationship between the EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) and the OFCCP (Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs) which manages that workspace. But it's still better, when the opportunity presents itself, to be explicitly covered by the law to minimize legal complications in the future.

It's always an honor to be invited to the White House to celebrate a victory, and this one is particularly sweet in that many of us have pushed for this for six years. Some worked from inside, like my colleagues at Freedom to Work, Tico Almeida and Christian Berle, and the teams from the National Center for Transgender Equality, HRC and the Williams Institute. Others of us pushed from the outside, including Freedom to Work and the glorious troublemakers at GetEqual. There were times when the blowback from the White House was pretty intense, and there were many White House press briefings when the Executive Order was called "hypothetical." I still don't understand why it took so long, as this seemed to be the easiest lift of all for the White House. But I always remembered the president's personal exhortation to persevere, of which he reminded us from the East Room. It's how progress has been made since the days of the first progressives.

"Many of you have worked for a long time to see this day coming. You organized, you spoke up, you signed petitions, you sent letters -- I know because I got a lot of them. And now, thanks to your passionate advocacy and the irrefutable rightness of your cause, our government -- government of the people, by the people, and for the people -- will become just a little bit fairer."

I'm reminded of how difficult and messy this progress can be from the review of the creation of "the sex amendment" in Title VII by Louis Menand in this week's New Yorker. What has often been portrayed as a prank or poison pill turns out to have been preceded by months of machinations steeped in racial and religious jockeying. The circumstances pitted "white, Christian" suffragettes, like Alice Paul, against the African-American civil rights community. The women were worried that when black men and women received their rights, they, white women, would be left in the dust without legal protection. Martha Griffiths, a congresswoman from Michigan, during the House debate on the "sex amendment" introduced by Howard W. Smith of Virginia, the Democratic chair of the Rules committee, known as "the House substitute for the Dixiecrat filibuster," argued that if the bill were passed without the amendment, "you are going to have white men in one bracket, you are going to try to take colored men and colored women and give them equal employment rights, and down at the bottom of the list is going to be a white woman with no rights at all."

We look back now and recognize how naive those fears were. Did they really believe that black men would be treated well, let alone black women? In an age where those in greatest need of protection and support are trans women of color we understand the reality. Apparently those politically engaged white women were so blinded by their own lives, circumscribed by patriarchy, that they didn't understand one of the most basic facts of American life.

While it doesn't carry any legal weight, only the power of symbolism, the most touching moments for me in the president's presentation were his fluency with the word "transgender." Acceptance is something you feel more than know, and the president's comfort and ease with the word signaled to me that growing acceptance. I remember discussing trans issues with the late Senator Kennedy, followed soon after by his first public utterance of the word. We've come a very long way since then.

And within days the Executive Order has already born fruit. Exxon Mobil, the worst major corporate scofflaw in the name on HRC's Corporate Equality Index, scoring a -25, agreed to abide by the Order. Amazing what a little presidential leadership can accomplish.

Warren Murray and agencies   |   July 18, 2014   12:52 PM ET

The White House has reacted to the shooting down of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 over Ukraine by criticising Russia's support for separatist rebels and urging the Kremlin to take "concrete steps" to ease tensions in the country.

A series of remarks by Barack Obama, Joe Biden and John Kerry stopped short of directly blaming pro-Russia rebels for the missile attack on a civilian airliner that killed 298 people.

But Hillary Clinton, the former US secretary of state, was more potent in her statements, saying in a television interview that indications pointed at the Russian-backed side and action was needed to "put [Vladimir] Putin on notice that he has gone too far and we are not going to stand idly by".

Boehner's Laughable Lawsuit

Chris Weigant   |   July 16, 2014    7:55 PM ET

Speaker of the House John Boehner now seems pretty committed to his effort to bring a lawsuit against President Obama. This is ridiculous on a number of different levels, and a majority of the American people already see it as nothing more than a political stunt (which is good to hear, since that is exactly what it is). If Boehner keeps to the timetable he's set out, this sentiment may even grow right before the midterm election. The Republicans believe that suing Obama will excite and turn out their base voters, and they're betting that this benefit will be larger than any political blowback (which would excite and turn out Democrats and Independents to the polls to vote against Republicans). Whether they're right in this political calculation or not remains to be seen. But what is undeniable is that, so far, this lawsuit is nothing short of laughable.

To date, Boehner has only said that the House Republicans will be suing over President Obama's delay of the "business mandate" in Obamacare -- no other subjects have been admitted to publicly, at least (this could always change, though). A quick review of the facts is in order: Obama announced (a while back) that he would grant a one-year delay for the implementation of the Obamacare business mandate, mostly because he had been pressured to do so by the business lobbyists. They wanted another year to prepare for the new system (even though they had already had a number of years to do so). Obama granted this one-year delay, which meant that the businesses didn't have to comply last October (when the exchanges went into operation), but could instead wait until this year's open enrollment period (which will start in November). The business lobby was happy enough with this extension.

So the first question is: who was harmed by this decision? It's a very important question, because it determines "standing" in court. You can't sue unless you were in some way harmed by an action or event. But the business lobby is not suing (why would they, since they got what they wanted from Obama), nor are the employees of such businesses suing (people who would have the clearest legal standing of any group, because they were denied Obamacare-level insurance for another year). But how does the House of Representatives show standing? They were not harmed by Obama's decision, after all. So the most likely outcome of this whole political stunt is that Boehner's lawsuit will be thrown out of court before it even begins (what some might call "being laughed out of court," in fact).

There's a second question of standing to consider, as well. The courts have famously shied away from refereeing political struggles between the legislative and executive branches. The judge could just as easily dismiss such a lawsuit by noting that these questions are best resolved at the ballot box in the American system. The precedents all point to this outcome (although with today's Supreme Court, who knows what the ultimate ruling would be). If the courts are dragged in to every political question raised in Washington, then the government would get even more gridlocked, hard as that now may be to imagine. Judges know this, and will likely rely on prior rulings to immediately dismiss Boehner's case.

Even if through some miracle (in front of some staunch Republican appointee, perhaps) the House does manage to achieve legal standing to file such a lawsuit, the lawsuit's reasoning is beyond illogical. It actually crosses the line into farce. Consider, if you will, that Boehner and the Republicans were never against the concept of pushing Obamacare deadlines out -- they were in fact all for such an idea, which is easily proven by any number of votes they held on this very question. Republicans went on the record time and time again in an effort to not just push back the deadline for businesses, but to do so for everyone. They wanted to indefinitely delay all of Obamacare from ever becoming reality. In fact, they even shut down the government in an attempt to roll back Obamacare deadlines for a year. They did not succeed, but there are mountains of evidence showing the Republicans have always been on the side of "delay Obamacare, as long as possible, for everyone." So how are they going to claim -- in front of a judge, and with a straight face -- that they are now shocked and outraged that Obama delayed the business deadline? Republicans wanted businesses to not be affected by Obamacare. So how can they now complain of a one-year delay? It defies credulity, to put it mildly.

Even if, through some further miracle, they were able to convince a judge not only that they had standing and that their topsy-turvy stance on delaying Obamacare is somehow now heartfelt, the case is laughable because it will likely only be resolved after Obama leaves office. If they file the case at the end of the summer, there is absolutely no way it will be heard until (at the very earliest) after the midterms. No matter what the initial ruling may be, it wouldn't be expected to arrive until (again, under lightspeed conditions) early next year. Factor in appeals all the way up to the Supreme Court, and maybe (again, this is if it moves with blinding speed) by the middle of 2016 they could get a Supreme Court ruling. If there are any delays at all along the line (which would be almost guaranteed, in the federal court system), the case wouldn't be resolved until after the next president is sworn in.

I saved the biggest and funniest thing about Boehner's case for last, though. Let's just ignore the speed of the federal courts and enter Fantasyland for a moment. Say the House Republicans were granted standing, and did manage to convince a judge or jury that their upside-down political stance is now somehow valid. Pretend that they win the case, and win so big that the Obama administration doesn't even bother to appeal it. Picture this all happening before the midterms (hey, I said it was Fantasyland).

In this magical courtroom, just imagine a judge reading a ruling which gives the Republicans everything they want. But what, precisely, would that be? Say the case is decided (again: Fantasyland) by the end of this October. What injunctive relief can be given? What could the judge possibly rule should then happen to fix things? The judge has just agreed that President Obama shouldn't have pushed the business mandate deadline back, and was totally wrong to do so. So what, exactly, can he force President Obama to then do about it?

No judge can turn back time, or the calendar. To put this another way, no ruling is possible which returns us all to October, 2013. The facts on the ground are the facts on the ground, even if Republicans win their case. The only possible relief the judge could offer the House Republicans is to invalidate the delay in implementation, which would have the result of forcing all businesses to immediately comply with the Obamacare mandate, ahead of the pushed-back deadline.

But here's where it gets hilarious: the pushed-back deadline is actually mid-November. Even in Fantasyland, no sane judge is going to rule "the federal government must immediately implement something that is already going to take place within a few (days/weeks)." Even assuming the Obama administration wouldn't appeal (which is indeed laughable to assume), the deadline will be staring everyone in the face -- including the judge. And, outside of Fantasyland, there is no possible realistic chance that the case will be decided before the new deadline has already passed by. In fact, it's hard to imagine what injunctive relief the House Republicans even could ask for. What judicial ruling would make things right concerning a deadline that got moved in the past and will soon become reality anyway? Absent the ability to turn back time, there simply is no realistic answer to this question.

This is the final proof that this entire lawsuit is nothing more than a joke. It's a political ploy, plain and simple. The Republicans are suing over something they have not been harmed by, when the people who might have been harmed actually welcomed the change, and they expect the judge to do what, exactly?

Of course, there is a political case to be made. The political case, properly stated, might be: suing Obama over this matter will make him think twice about doing anything like it ever again. Sort of a pre-emptory lawsuit designed to raise the political cost for Obama to do anything the House Republicans don't approve of. This, as I mentioned, is entirely political (not legal) reasoning, and while farfetched at least has a certain logic to it: taking a shot across Obama's bow might soften him up for the next two years.

What's really laughable about the whole situation, though, is that House Republicans are the ones who can usually be found clutching the Constitution to their chests, professing undying love for the "original language and intent" all the while. Of course, if they bothered to actually read the document in their pocket, they would learn that even if one party controls one house of the legislature, suing the president is not seen as an option to solving the problem of presidential law-breaking. There are two measures explicitly laid out in the Constitution to solve such a constitutional crisis, though. The first is for Congress to exercise the "power of the purse" and just refuse to fund something they don't approve of. The second is for the House to impeach the president and the Senate to try him.

If John Boehner really does think President Obama was acting lawlessly, then he should draw up articles of impeachment. He is, in fact, duty-bound to do so (if that's really what he believes) by the oath of office he swore. Boehner, however, knows this is never going to work. He knows that the Senate will never vote to convict on such flimsy grounds, and he knows full well what happened to Republicans the last time they tried this (Bill Clinton's approval rating shot through the roof). Boehner is trying to appear less extremist by only suing the president, rather than impeaching him. Personally, I think he's miscalculating in two big ways. The first is that the political backlash might not be as big as what happened during Clinton's impeachment -- but it will likely be a lot bigger than the House Republicans expect or foresee. And the second is that by even bringing such a lawsuit, it is only going to increase the cries from House Republicans (Tea Partiers, especially) to just go ahead and impeach Obama. What this all means is that this lawsuit isn't going to satisfy much of anybody, no matter how it turns out.

Except, perhaps, late-night comics. They're going to have a field day over all the laughable aspects of the case they can point out. That is pretty much guaranteed.

 

Chris Weigant blogs at:
ChrisWeigant.com

Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant
Become a fan of Chris on The Huffington Post

 

The Real Controversy In Clinton's Gay Marriage Interview Wasn't The Tone

Sam Stein   |   June 18, 2014   12:00 AM ET

WASHINGTON -- Hillary Clinton's interview last week on National Public Radio drew heavy interest, and no shortage of pre-2016 theatrics, for her sharp exchange on the issue of same-sex marriage.

Terry Gross, the host of "Fresh Air," pressed the former secretary of state on when she changed her mind and decided gay couples have a right to legally wed -- something she publicly opposed until leaving the Obama administration last year. When Clinton gave a vague answer, Gross persisted, wondering if Clinton had always supported the rights of same-sex couples, even when her public position was otherwise.

But for all the ink spent writing about the tone of the exchange, the substance of Clinton's response was what spurred attention and, in some corners of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender community, concern. Speaking about her own evolution on gay marriage, Clinton suggested the issue should be resolved at the state level instead of in federal courts.

"So, for me, marriage had always been a matter left to the states," Clinton said. "And in many of the conversations that I and my colleagues and supporters had, I fully endorse the efforts by activists who work state by state, and in fact that is what is working."

"We are at a point now where equality, including marriage equality, in our country, is solidly established," Clinton added later. "Although there will be places … Texas, just to name one, where that is still going to be an ongoing struggle."

For leaders in the LGBT community, including some Clinton backers, her answer gave the impression that she doesn't see a constitutional right to marry for same-sex couples.

"I know her heart, but it is terrible framing," said Hilary Rosen, a longtime gay rights advocate and ally of the Clintons. "Since this is going to the Supreme Court potentially on that question, I was surprised at her 'old school' framing of that. Since she has 'evolved,' why not just get rid of that old red herring, too?"

A spokesman for Clinton did not return a request for comment on whether she viewed marriage as a constitutional right -- the legal question raised by the Supreme Court case argued by legal stars David Boies and Ted Olson. The Huffington Post was, however, referred to several LGBT advocates. who praised Clinton's work on gay rights throughout her career.

"There has been no secretary of state that has done more for LGBT issues than Secretary Clinton," said Jon Tollefson, the former head of Gays and Lesbians in Foreign Affairs Agencies. Tollefson listed Clinton's accomplishments, including making it so that the State Department recognizes same-sex partners as family members, speaking at an LGBT Pride event at the department, changing the department's Equal Employment Opportunity statement to include gender identity, and instructing U.S. ambassadors to find ways to support LGBT equality overseas.

“It is remarkable how much of a champion she was for LGBT rights," Tollefson concluded.

No one interviewed for this article questioned Clinton's commitment to LGBT rights. Her endorsement of same-sex marriage in March 2013 came later than President Barack Obama's, but it was in the same time frame as the majority of the Democratic Party. Associates who have worked with Clinton echoed Tollefson's point about her personal attitudes and professional treatment of LGBT issues.

“If she runs, there isn't a gay person alive that isn’t going to cry with joy that she's running,” said one LGBT rights advocate who found her NPR remarks "problematic on a few levels.”

But the question raised by Clinton's interview is how she thinks strategically about litigating the future of same-sex marriage. And on this, she appears to have placed herself in the less aggressive camp.

"We very much see marriage equality as a federal issue," said Fred Sainz, vice president for communications and marketing for the Human Rights Campaign, which has worked closely with Olsen and Boies. "While it’s certainly true that the regulation of marriage has traditionally been an issue left to the states, the denial of marriage equality is most certainly a federal issue. That’s why federal claims -- lack of equal protection and due process -- are being made in federal courts and federal judges are agreeing.

“Advocates have always thought that the issue would be settled by the Supreme Court,” Sainz added. “We’re looking for a 50-state solution and it’s not acceptable for any state to be left out."

Richard Socarides, a Clinton ally who served as an LGBT adviser in Bill Clinton's White House, said he suspects that the former secretary of state supports the Olson-Boies argument and that her leave-it-to-the states comment was more a political observation than a statement of philosophy.

"I do believe that she fully supports the idea that the U.S. Supreme Court should declare that the federal Constitution gives every American the right to marry the person they love regardless of sexual orientation," said Socarides. "Her position is similar to President Obama’s, who has said that he favors states moving forward individually and changing their laws. I don’t think it is inconsistent to say, on the one hand, that individual states, as they feel they are ready for it, should move forward on their own timetable and still believe that the federal Constitution guarantees everybody the right to marry."

Others acknowledged that Clinton was somewhat off-message in the NPR interview, but gave her the benefit of the doubt.

“Some of her answers were not artful and not clear,” said Evan Wolfson, president of Freedom to Marry, a campaign focused on making same-sex marriage legal nationwide. “What is clear is that the freedom to marry is guaranteed by the Constitution. I would expect that Secretary Clinton would understand that as a smart lawyer and as someone who understands what 20 out of 20 federal judges have said in the last year.”

Asked if it bothered him that Clinton seemed to make the case for state’s rights to regulate marriage, Wolfson said only, “I hope there will be other opportunities where she would be clear that the Constitution guarantees the freedom to marry.”

Netanyahu: Playing Us for Fools

James Zogby   |   May 31, 2014   11:04 AM ET

Over the past few weeks a number of comments related to the now collapsed Israeli-Palestinian peace talks caught my attention. Collectively they establish why the talks failed and make clear what must change if any negotiated settlement is to be successful in the future.

To be blunt, what they reveal is that there will be no Israeli-Palestinian peace as long as Benjamin Netanyahu remains Prime Minister of Israel. They also establish that by ignoring this simple fact continued U.S. efforts risk becoming a "fool's errand."

The first comment came from an "anonymous US official" (widely believed to be Martin Indyk) appearing in an Israeli publication. Here is the reason the "US official" gave for the collapse of the peace process:

The negotiations had to start with a decision to freeze settlement construction. We thought that we couldn't achieve that because of the current makeup of the Israeli government, so we gave up. We didn't realize Netanyahu was using the announcements of tenders for settlement construction as a way to ensure the survival of his own government. We didn't realize continuing construction allowed ministers in his government to very effectively sabotage the success of the talks. There are a lot of reasons for the peace effort's failure, but people in Israel shouldn't ignore the bitter truth -- the primary sabotage came from the settlements. The Palestinians don't believe that Israel really intends to let them found a state when, at the same time, it is building settlements on the territory meant for that state. We're talking about the announcement of 14,000 housing units, no less. Only now, after talks blew up, did we learn that this is also about expropriating land on a large scale. That does not reconcile with the agreement.
The second comment came from Netanyahu, speaking to a group of young members of his political party. Here's what he said:
When I entered the Prime Minister's Office for my second term, I was summoned to Washington. "Not one brick," they told me. I was threatened specifically: "Not one brick." The pressure from the international community and the Americans was enormous. I don't think anyone in Israel was under such pressure. And still, after five years on the job, we built a little more than 'one brick.' But the important thing is to do it in a smart way, in a quiet way, without inflammatory statements... A leader knows to stand up to international pressure by maneuvering... What matters is that we continue to head straight toward our goal, even if one time we walk right and another time walk left.

It is difficult to fathom how anyone in the US Administration could claim to have been surprised by Netanyahu's behavior. He is not the "new kid on the block."

Netanyahu was elected in 1996 on a platform dedicated to ending the Oslo peace process. Working with his allies in the American neo-conservative movement who authored his "Making a Clean Break" speech to Congress, the new prime minister set out to play the Republican-led Congress against Clinton in order to bury Oslo. In time, Netanyahu succeeded in so distorting the process that he could claim five years later how he "played the US" and won. Here is Netanyahu, in 2001, describing how he handled America:

I know what America is. America is a thing that can be easily moved, moved in the right direction. They will not bother us. Let's suppose that they will say something... so they say it? Eighty per cent of the Americans support us... We have such support there! And we say... what shall we do with this [support]? Look, the other administration [that of Bill Clinton] was pro-Palestinian in an extreme way. I was not afraid to maneuver there. I did not fear confrontation with Clinton. I was not afraid to clash with the UN.

Why anyone would have thought upon his reelection as Prime Minister in 2009 that Netanyahu would be a "horse of a different color" is difficult to understand. Yes, he claimed to endorse a "two state solution," but with sufficient enough caveats as to render his endorsement meaningless. And yes, he agreed to a short-term "settlement freeze," but as the facts on the ground made clear, his agreement was full of holes.

On the one hand, Netanyahu can be seen as a maneuverer, but in reality, he is an ideologue, relentless in his efforts to maintain control of what he refers to as Judea and Samaria. He will feint to the left or right, as need be, but the key to understanding him is to judge him by his actions, not his words.

During Clinton's second term, Netanyahu so tested his patience that Clinton began to apply subtle but real pressure to send the message to the Israeli people that the US could no longer tolerate his behavior. I recall Clinton's frustration when Netanyahu, using the same argument he has used recently, expressed the fear that his government would fall if he agreed to what the US was asking him to do. Clinton knew that if Netanyahu moved toward peace he would in fact lose some hardline supporters. But what Clinton also knew was that Netanyahu would pick up more support from centrist parties. Then, as now, Netanyahu chose to keep his hardline coalition and to forgo peace. Clinton's pressure continued until Israelis got the message and elected a new prime minister.

President Obama tried to pressure Netanyahu during his first term, but after the Israeli prime minister played the US Congress against him, Obama relented. If the president still hopes to succeed in his second term, he has a choice to make. Leaving it up to the parties to make peace will not work, because Netanyahu doesn't want peace on any terms other than those that would leave both his coalition intact and the Palestinians as a humiliated and still captive people. If the US is serious, then the only course of action is to apply sufficient pressure to force Israelis to choose between Netanyahu and peace. It's politically risky, to be sure, but unless we are ready to play hardball with Netanyahu, he will continue to play us for the fools he thinks we are.