As the old Israeli saying goes, “What you don’t see with your eyes, don’t invent with your mouth.”

Iran and six world powers, including the United States, are meeting in Geneva to negotiate over Iran’s nuclear weapons program. The US must be clear and unequivocal: There will be no reductions in sanctions without verified steps to show that Tehran is abandoning, not just freezing, its nuclear weapons program.

Sanctions are what have brought Iran to the table to talk in the first place. In 2012, the Islamic Republic’s net exports of petroleum dropped to their lowest level since 1990. Its GDP has dropped for the first time in 20 years. The Iranian Central Bank acknowledged an annual inflation rate of 45 percent in late July 2013; many economists believe it is more likely in the 50-70 percent range.

In short, the Iranians are feeling the pinch. The sanctions are working.

But getting the Iranians to the negotiating table is not good enough.

If we reduce sanctions now, we give up one of our main sources of leverage for the negotiations. Why stop what is working before we even start talking? Tehran wants to ease the sanctions to a tolerable enough level so that it can continue developing nuclear weapons without pain to its economy.

If we ease sanctions now, Iran will doubt our resolve, continue to run out the clock, and develop nuclear weapons knowing that there will be no serious consequences.

If the US caves in at this critical time, other countries around the world will likely follow its lead and ease their own sanctions. In short, we would be right back to where we were in 2004: Iran marching toward a dangerous nuclear weapons program with no significant sanctions in place. Only this time, it would be much worse. Tehran has continually blocked international inspectors from seeing its nuclear facilities because it has something to hide.

Iran is closer than ever before to crossing the threshold and developing a nuclear weapon. Iran’s stockpile of medium-enriched uranium has nearly doubled in a year, and its number of centrifuges has expanded from 12,000 in 2012 to 19,000 today.

Iran could produce enough weapons-grade uranium to build a nuclear bomb in as little as a month, a recent report by the Institute for Science and International Security states. It goes on to say that if Iran built a covert enrichment plant with the specific purpose of enriching uranium as quickly as possible, with current Iranian technology it could produce enough material for a nuclear bomb in a week. Backing off from sanctions now should not be an option. We simply do not have time.

If we want diplomacy to succeed, we shouldn’t be talking about reducing sanctions but rather ratcheting them up. My colleagues and I in the House of Representatives passed an additional sanctions bill in July that would inflict even more pain on the Iranian regime. These new sanctions would go after more sectors of the Iranian economy and more individuals in the Iranian government. The US Senate should ignore the president’s objections and pass these sanctions immediately. If peace is to carry the day, we cannot start backing down now.

Nobody wants war with Iran. We should not give up the one peaceful tool that has finally impacted the Iranian regime enough to change its cost-benefit analysis. It would be foolish and dangerous to reduce sanctions without Iran proving that it is dismantling its nuclear weapons program. And that’s just the way it is.

As the dust settles from the government shutdown, the House has returned to work.

Next up: the Water Resources Reforms and Development Act.

Most Americans probably have no idea what the water resources proposal is because it does not make the mainstream media.

The legislation might not make for an eye-catching headline, but its passage will positively affect the economy nationwide, particularly in Texas. It passed the House on Oct. 23 with an overwhelming, nearly unanimous bipartisan vote.

This bill will now go to conference with the Senate, and then hopefully soon after to President Barack Obama's desk.

This is the way Washington should function. In the wake of a Washington war, this was a welcomed victory for America and for Texas.

Texas is one of the largest maritime states in the nation and the No. 1 exporter nationwide. Waterways and ports provide more than 200,000 jobs statewide and contribute $34 billion to our economy. Though these numbers are impressive, much of the potential benefit of Texas ports and waterways has gone untapped.

Improving ports and waterways will ensure that Texas continues to be the nation's dominant export state.

We need to be forward-looking and the federal government must help, not hinder, the process of preparing for the future.

Unfortunately, that has not been the case.

As with all other things, "delay" has been the name of the game in Washington, hindering economic growth in Texas and all around the nation.

The Constitution charges Congress with the responsibility of promoting interstate commerce.

Historically, Congress has fulfilled this duty.

But, as the federal government has grown, so has federal bureaucracy.

Many projects included in the water resources bill have faced years of unnecessary and costly delay and red tape.

One of those stalled projects is right here in Southeast Texas - making navigation improvements to the Sabine-Neches Waterway.

What does Texas have to gain from this?

First, the widening and deepening of the Sabine will generate even greater exporting capabilities for Texas.

The deepening will increase depth from 40 to 48 feet, with widening and anchorages in places to allow deeper draft vessels.

Larger vessels will lead to greater exporting capabilities.

Currently, many ships are forced to come in less than full so they don't get stuck.

This expanded capacity will only grow when the Panama Canal expansion opens and larger ships begin to come through and head for our Gulf Coast ports.

Failure to widen and deepen the Sabine creates a giant missed opportunity for the Texas economy. This does not have to be.

The Sabine-Neches Waterway widening and deepening will also increase our nation's energy capabilities.

The waterway is lined with refineries.

Currently, the Sabine pipelines deliver around 15 percent (more than 3 million barrels) of all of the refined crude oil products east of the Rocky Mountains on a daily basis.

The Sabine also is vital to America's military.

It is home to the largest commercial military outload port in America based on tonnage, and it is the second-largest in the world.

The channel is home to two designated military strategic seaports: Beaumont and Port Arthur Additionally, approximately 20 to 30 percent of America's commercial jet fuel and a significant majority and classified amount of our military's jet fuel is produced on the waterway.

We cannot afford to stand idly by while other nations such as China continue to aggressively grow their economy.

The Sabine Neches project is one of many included in the Water Resources Reforms and Development Act that will increase our global competitiveness, create jobs and positively affect the economy nationwide.

It is time to get moving and for Washington to pass that bill. Or else, the United States will simply be the superpower of the past.

In the early morning hours of Sept. 1, Iraqi gunmen raided a camp in the hinterlands of Iraq where 100 members of an Iranian opposition group lived.

Unarmed civilians were running around trying to not get shot while their assailants systematically gunned them down. The attackers were not there to talk. They were there to kill. And they succeeded. By the time the sun came up, the assailants had killed 52 of the unarmed residents and kidnapped seven more. I have seen footage of the attack. This was not only an act of terror; it was a massacre.

A United Nations delegation that visited the camp the next day verified that the 52 deceased had “suffered gunshot wounds, the majority of them in the head and the upper body, and several with their hands tied.”

These were innocent people living in a refugee camp who were murdered execution style. They had no weapons. They lived in a remote location with little communication abilities. They did not pose a threat to anyone. They were murdered in cold blood. Their only crime was opposing the same dictator our U.S. government opposes: Ali Khamenei, the Supreme Leader of Iran, who just happens to be an ally of Iraq.

Unfortunately, this is not the first time members of this group have been massacred. Despite repeated assurances by the Iraqi government that the residents would be safe and protected, 113 members have been killed in five separate attacks since 2009. Three of those killed were U.S. permanent residents. The culprits are not rogue bandits or militias, nor are those killed random victims. These are systematic, political murders.

After five separate attacks over four years, no one has been held accountable, not the killers themselves and not anyone in the government of Iraq, which is responsible to protect them. Everyone has gotten a pass on 113 murders.

In June 2011, I and other members of Congress met with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in Iraq to discuss U.S.-Iraqi relations. The meeting that was supposed to last 20 minutes but went for two hours came to an abrupt halt when our delegation asked to see the camp where these opposition members lived. The camp had been attacked just two months prior, resulting in the death of 36 unarmed residents. Al-Maliki’s mood immediately changed, and he said that there was no way that we were going to see the camp. Al-Maliki did not allow us to go because he had something to hide.

Two years and three attacks later, there are troubling signs of at least complicity, if not outright involvement, by the government of Iraq in this latest attack. There are more than a dozen checkpoints manned by Iraqi security forces on the road to the camp. There are also armed Iraqi guards surrounding the camp, ostensibly there to protect the residents. The idea that the assailants could get past all of the checkpoints and carry out an approximately three-hour attack on the camp without the knowledge of the government of Iraq is difficult to believe.

The State Department condemned the attack and asked the government of Iraq to investigate. Given the history of the previous attacks and the circumstances of this latest attack, that’s like asking Al Capone to run the IRS. When I was a prosecutor, the first thing you did in opening an investigation was interview the witnesses, but more than a month after this most recent attack, the Iraqi government has yet to interview any of the 42 survivors. That’s because there is no investigation. It is all a sham. The Iraqi government cannot be trusted to keep these refugees safe.

On Nov. 1, al-Maliki will come dragging the sack to collect more of our taxpayers’ money as he meets with the president. The U.S. must do a better job of holding the government of Iraq accountable; there should be real consequences for the lack of protection of these unarmed, innocent civilians. The president should inform al-Maliki that we will reduce U.S. assistance, including weapons sales, to his government until it does all it can to work for the release of the seven hostages and takes clear and verifiable steps to protect the remaining residents living in Iraq.

There has been much ado about the recent election of Hasan Rouhani as president of Iran and its geopolitical significance.

Many were quick to label Rouhani a “moderate,” suggesting that now may be the time to negotiate with Iran. However, despite the sham elections and promises of change by Rouhani, the structure of the Iranian regime remains intact. The ultimate power still remains with Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. The only change that matters in Iran is the prospect for true democratic change.

Rouhani is no moderate. He has long been entrenched in the regime’s political and intelligence apparatus. Behind the facade of moderation is a simple truth evident since the last so-called “moderate” Iranian president, Mohammad Khatami: While the president may put on a charm offensive to the West, the supreme leader is still driving toward nuclear weapons and using terrorism abroad to accomplish his political agenda. While this strategy may have fooled many before, we should not be so naive this go-round.

There are very simple and straightforward ways to measure meaningful change in Iran. Standard benchmarks include freedom of speech, the treatment of political prisoners and the use of terror abroad and at home. Can Rouhani have any effect on these issues? The simple answer is no. Short of complete institutional change, none of these matters will be addressed in any meaningful way.

The elections were essentially another tactical maneuver by Khamenei to maintain his grip on power. Whereas his mass electoral fraud in 2009 in order to secure another term for Mahmoud Ahmadinejad resulted in rare popular protests, this year, increased isolation and division at home have forced him to take even more drastic steps to maintain his survival. The first of these maneuvers was the disqualification of former President Hashemi Rafsanjani from his candidacy in the elections.

This was an act of desperation to avoid a potentially catastrophic situation at the polls. The once untouchable supreme leader now does not even have the political will to ensure conformity and discipline among his own rank and file.

Though he wanted Iranian politician Saeed Jalili as president, Khamenei was forced to allow the election of Rouhani due to an inability to unite the candidates in his own faction, plus the fear of a widespread revolt if he engaged in blatant fraud. Such a tactic may allow him to surpass the danger of an immediate uprising but will inevitably lead to increased factional infighting down the line.

Rouhani’s presidency may in fact serve to empower change in Iran, but not through reform or “moderation.” As the infighting escalates and dissent grows, activists in Iran may seize the opportunity to voice their desire for real and radical change, just like in 2009.

This call for fundamental change was echoed June 22 in France, when more than 100,000 Iranians converged to remind the international community of the real desires of the Iranian people. They made a simple, yet compelling argument that the only policy option for dealing with Iran is to reject military intervention or further appeasement of this regime and to embrace democratic change.

The Iranian delegates were joined by more than 600 political dignitaries, lawmakers and jurists representing a wide spectrum of political parties from 47 countries. 

They urged the West to stand with the Iranian people in their quest for freedom. They stood in solidarity with those in attendance in advocating a democratic secular republic that respects civil and human rights, and ends the nuclear program. They also demanded that the international community act to ensure the protection of Iranian refugees trapped in Camp Liberty in Iraq, where two dissidents died in an attack the day after the election.

The June 22 event highlighted hope for the democratic forces in Iran. It stood in stark contrast to the apathy and hopelessness that pervaded the elections. Policymakers would do well to remember who is really calling the shots in Tehran. As long as the supreme leader and his henchmen are in power, our best hope are those who are fighting for true, democratic change. And that’s just the way it is.

Poe has represented Texas’s 2nd congressional district in the House of Representatives since 2005. He sits on the Judiciary and Foreign Affairs committees and is chairman of the latter’s subcommittee on Terrorism, Nonproliferation and Trade.



Politico

By Rep. Ted Poe and Rep. John Conyers


"If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog.” Those were the words attributed to America’s 33rd president, Harry Truman.

 

Unfortunately, Truman’s words have never rung more true. Washington is more polarized than ever. That is the reality of divided government. Some issues, however, still bring Republicans and Democrats together, especially when our constitutional rights are at stake. As a conservative Texan and liberal from Michigan, we often find ourselves on opposite sides of issues, but we stand together on one important issue: enacting a federal shield law to protect reporters from being forced to disclose their confidential sources.


A free and robust press is essential to the transparent and effective functioning of our government. Freedom of the press is enshrined in the First Amendment as a foundational freedom upon which our other freedoms — including speech and privacy — are premised. An unfettered press can inform the public about government abuses that threaten our citizens’ rights. This is not a conservative or liberal principle. It’s an American principle. A free press can hold both Democratic and Republican administrations accountable, as we’ve seen throughout our history, from Watergate and the Pentagon Papers to the recent Internal Revenue Service and National Security Agency scandals.

 

Current events have brought renewed urgency to the need for federal press shield legislation. On May 13, we learned that the Department of Justice had secretly subpoenaed phone records, stemming from a leak investigation, for more than 20 telephone lines of Associated Press offices and journalists over a two-month period. A week later, we learned that in connection with a leak investigation concerning a possible North Korean missile launch, the DOJ had been tracking Fox News reporter James Rosen’s dealings with the State Department and went so far as to label him a “co-conspirator” in order to access his personal emails. Such actions sent a chilling signal to both reporters and their sources.

 

The bipartisan Free Flow of Information Act would respond to these excesses by providing federal legislative safeguards for reporters. For the first time, instead of self-imposed DOJ regulations, there would be statutory protection, ensuring that the federal judiciary is brought in to oversee any DOJ efforts to compel journalists to reveal confidential information. The statute would protect against mandating media disclosure unless the DOJ could prove that its interest in compelling disclosure exceeded the public interest in disseminating the information.

 

The legislation offers strong protections to journalists. It would provide for narrow exceptions, where necessary, to prevent acts of terrorism or immediate death or bodily harm. But even in those cases, obtaining information from journalists would be a means of last resort. Our bill would also require the DOJ to notify media organizations before any subpoenas are issued unless the department can prove that delay would unnecessarily threaten its investigation.


No law is perfect, and we must still count on the DOJ exercising greater discretion than it has in recent months. However, enacting the Free Flow of Information Act would go a long way toward limiting the likelihood of unfettered and threatening prosecutorial fishing expeditions in the future.

 

In Congress, timing can be everything. Our bill has had bipartisan support for nearly a decade since it was first introduced by our former Judiciary Committee colleagues Mike Pence (R-Ind.) and Rick Boucher (D-Va.). The legislation passed the House by an overwhelming vote of 398 to 21 in 2007 and by a voice vote in 2009. In the wake of the furor over the WikiLeaks case, legislative momentum stalled and the bill died in the Senate. But we believe the time is now ripe for a federal shield law to be signed into law, allowing the federal government to finally join 49 out of 50 states in protecting citizen rights to a free press. This is a timely issue that will not cost the taxpayers a dime and has the support of the administration and congressional leadership.


More than 225 years ago, Thomas Jefferson wrote, “Our liberty depends on the freedom of the press, and that cannot be limited without being lost.” In this age of hyperpartisanship and political gridlock, an issue as important as a free press has united both sides of the aisle.

 

Rep. John Conyers represents Michigan’s 13th Congressional District. Rep. Ted Poe represents Texas’s 2nd Congressional District.

We are in the midst of an energy revolution.

Over the last 7 years, the amount of recoverable natural gas in our country has skyrocketed. For the first time in our nation's history, we have more gas than we could use here in the United States even if we tried; our current reserves are roughly 97 times what the U.S. consumed in all of 2011. We could sell the gas on the global market for billions of dollars, creating thousands of jobs in the process, but we are not for one simple reason: bureaucratic red tape.

Back in 1938, when the U.S. was a net importer of natural gas, Congress passed a law requiring any company that wanted to export natural gas to first get approval from the Department of Energy (DOE). Over the last 70 years, this bureaucratic hurdle was hardly noticed as the U.S. was a net importer of natural gas and looked to be for years to come.

That is no longer true. Technology has changed it all. There are some 18 export applications now pending before the DOE. The department's response? No response at all. In the last three years, DOE has granted only two applications.

Granting these applications today would be a much needed economic boost for the U.S. One project alone is projected to create 3,000 new construction jobs, 20,000-30,000 jobs in exploration, drilling and pipe-laying and many other jobs as a result of the project infusing $10 billion into our economy. Some opponents of exporting LNG argue that domestic prices will rise, increasing costs to consumers and businesses which rely on cheap natural gas. Yet, the most respected economic studies show only a modest increase to domestic prices that is far outweighed by the net economic benefits to the overall U.S. economy, including additional exploration and recovery.

In April, in a hearing I held with the world's leading experts on natural gas issues, our witnesses, from labor union representatives to economists, were unanimous in declaring that there was no good reason why the U.S. shouldn't be exporting more natural gas around the globe.

Aside from unquestionable economic benefits, there are also geopolitical considerations that make exporting LNG to our friends and allies a no-brainer. The risk of high reliance on Russian gas has been a principal driver of European energy policy in recent decades. Among central and eastern European states, particularly those formerly aligned with the Soviet Union such as Poland, Ukraine, Hungary, and the Czech Republic, the issue of reliance on imports of Russian gas is a primary energy security concern that has ripple effects throughout their foreign policy and jeopardizes essential political and economic reforms. From the U.S. perspective, cheap but reliable natural gas would reduce Moscow's clout while shoring up goodwill amongst our allies.

The Pacific Basin countries, much like the Europeans, have also expressed their desire for American LNG ; the resource-strapped Japanese government for example, has already attempted to secure a Free Trade Agreement waiver to allow exports.

As U.S. foreign policy attempts to "pivot to Asia," the ability of the U.S. to provide energy security and pricing relief to LNG importers will be an important economic and strategic asset.

We are sitting on more natural gas than we could ever consume on our own; it is long past time to update the old 1938 law, dismantle antiquated and bureaucratic road blocks, and take the Department of Energy out of the export license-granting process altogether. That's why I will soon introduce the "Expedite Our Economy Act of 2013," which calls for removing DOE from the process so we can finally get to work.

Even with DOE out of the process, there will continue to be sufficient regulation of the environmental impact and safety of projects from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. This is a good thing, and with its technical expertise and timely responses, the commission should continue to be a player in the process.

But, while our unemployment rate still sits north of 7 percent and thousands have been out of work for years, DOE's needless obstruction must come to an end.

Poe, a Republican representing the Houston area in the U.S. House of Representatives, is chairman of the Subcommittee on Terrorism, Non-proliferation & Trade.

 

Recently, our female colleagues on both sides of the aisle came together to discuss underaged sex trafficking. Not in Southeast Asia or the Middle East, where our attention is usually directed. But right here in the United States, where on any given day, some 250,000 American children, mostly young girls, are at risk of being sold into our nation's burgeoning sex trafficking industry.

 

Why is America's girl-focused sex traffic industry flourishing in its dark and dangerous marketplace? The simple answer is demand. As with any business, legal or illegal, success requires demand for the product being sold. In this case, men constitute the demand. Men are part of the problem. And men are part of the solution.

 

That is why we are joining our female colleagues to declare loudly that "our daughters are not for sale."

 

Understand that the daughters that we're talking about aren't street-wise prostitutes, but on average, 12- to 14-year-old girls. Many are runaways, abducted or lured by traffickers, then raped and beaten into submission. Traffickers have turned their attention from drugs to young girls because, as we are told, criminal enterprises have discovered it is less risky and more profitable to sell young girls than it is to market heroin or crack cocaine. This is happening in America today.

 

Regretfully, the "johns" who pay for these young girls are rarely arrested or prosecuted. More often it is their young rape victims who are re-victimized by a legal system all too quick to label them as prostitutes and, with that, give them lifelong criminal records. Our social welfare system too often fails to provide the necessary services to help these victims.

 

The agenda that our female colleagues put forth marks a huge step forward by Congress in addressing this national crisis. We, as men, join them in this effort and support these principles and needed steps:

 

  • Law enforcement and prosecutors must treat trafficked girls as victims, not criminals.
  • Exploited and trafficked girls must receive the same legal support and protections as other rape victims and full protection under laws governing child abuse.
  • Social services must provide victims with healing, as well as community education programs, to help everyone better understand the nature of a victimhood that most often includes broken homes, broken relationships and a welfare system that allows kids to fall through the cracks.

 

But the most significant point still focuses on demand.

 

To be sure, the last decade has seen significant federal and state efforts to go after traffickers – most of whom are men. But virtually none of the various task forces is charged with the dual responsibility of targeting buyers – most of whom are also men.

 

That must change. And our laws must be clear. Anyone who buys or sells a child will be caught and punished accordingly, under the full weight of local, state, and federal enforcement agencies. Men, as well as women, need to get behind making both our system of laws and penalties airtight in that respect.

 

On the demand side, there is a cultural component as well as a parent/guardian component at work. Every parent knows that protecting our kids while giving them the independence they need to learn and grow is a delicate balancing act.

 

In the meantime, as congressmen from different sides of the aisle, who are also fathers, we are pressing our colleagues, both male and female, to help assure that Congress, the Justice Department, and the White House address the issue of demand, along with the need for tougher laws and policies, in a shared effort to end this form of modern-day slavery.

 

That is our Father's Day gift to America's most vulnerable daughters.

 

Rep. Rick Nolan is a Minnesota Democrat. Rep. Ted Poe is a Texas Republican and founder of the Victims' Rights Caucus.

Recently, our female colleagues on both sides of the aisle came together to discuss underaged sex trafficking. Not in Southeast Asia or the Middle East, where our attention is usually directed. But right here in the United States, where on any given day, some 250,000 American children, mostly young girls, are at risk of being sold into our nation's burgeoning sex trafficking industry.

Why is America's girl-focused sex traffic industry flourishing in its dark and dangerous marketplace? The simple answer is demand. As with any business, legal or illegal, success requires demand for the product being sold. In this case, men constitute the demand. Men are part of the problem. And men are part of the solution.

That is why we are joining our female colleagues to declare loudly that "our daughters are not for sale."

Understand that the daughters that we're talking about aren't street-wise prostitutes, but on average, 12- to 14-year-old girls. Many are runaways, abducted or lured by traffickers, then raped and beaten into submission. Traffickers have turned their attention from drugs to young girls because, as we are told, criminal enterprises have discovered it is less risky and more profitable to sell young girls than it is to market heroin or crack cocaine. This is happening in America today.

Regretfully, the "johns" who pay for these young girls are rarely arrested or prosecuted. More often it is their young rape victims who are re-victimized by a legal system all too quick to label them as prostitutes and, with that, give them lifelong criminal records. Our social welfare system too often fails to provide the necessary services to help these victims.

The agenda that our female colleagues put forth marks a huge step forward by Congress in addressing this national crisis. We, as men, join them in this effort and support these principles and needed steps:

  • Law enforcement and prosecutors must treat trafficked girls as victims, not criminals.
  • Exploited and trafficked girls must receive the same legal support and protections as other rape victims and full protection under laws governing child abuse.
  • Social services must provide victims with healing, as well as community education programs, to help everyone better understand the nature of a victimhood that most often includes broken homes, broken relationships and a welfare system that allows kids to fall through the cracks.

But the most significant point still focuses on demand.

To be sure, the last decade has seen significant federal and state efforts to go after traffickers – most of whom are men. But virtually none of the various task forces is charged with the dual responsibility of targeting buyers – most of whom are also men.

That must change. And our laws must be clear. Anyone who buys or sells a child will be caught and punished accordingly, under the full weight of local, state, and federal enforcement agencies. Men, as well as women, need to get behind making both our system of laws and penalties airtight in that respect.

On the demand side, there is a cultural component as well as a parent/guardian component at work. Every parent knows that protecting our kids while giving them the independence they need to learn and grow is a delicate balancing act.

In the meantime, as congressmen from different sides of the aisle, who are also fathers, we are pressing our colleagues, both male and female, to help assure that Congress, the Justice Department, and the White House address the issue of demand, along with the need for tougher laws and policies, in a shared effort to end this form of modern-day slavery.

That is our Father's Day gift to America's most vulnerable daughters.

Rep. Rick Nolan is a Minnesota Democrat. Rep. Ted Poe is a Texas Republican and founder of the Victims' Rights Caucus.

- See more at: http://www.poe.house.gov/index.php?option=com_content&;task=view&id=9181&Itemid=167#sthash.1OEU5aJd.dpuf

Recently, our female colleagues on both sides of the aisle came together to discuss underaged sex trafficking. Not in Southeast Asia or the Middle East, where our attention is usually directed. But right here in the United States, where on any given day, some 250,000 American children, mostly young girls, are at risk of being sold into our nation's burgeoning sex trafficking industry.

Why is America's girl-focused sex traffic industry flourishing in its dark and dangerous marketplace? The simple answer is demand. As with any business, legal or illegal, success requires demand for the product being sold. In this case, men constitute the demand. Men are part of the problem. And men are part of the solution.

That is why we are joining our female colleagues to declare loudly that "our daughters are not for sale."

Understand that the daughters that we're talking about aren't street-wise prostitutes, but on average, 12- to 14-year-old girls. Many are runaways, abducted or lured by traffickers, then raped and beaten into submission. Traffickers have turned their attention from drugs to young girls because, as we are told, criminal enterprises have discovered it is less risky and more profitable to sell young girls than it is to market heroin or crack cocaine. This is happening in America today.

Regretfully, the "johns" who pay for these young girls are rarely arrested or prosecuted. More often it is their young rape victims who are re-victimized by a legal system all too quick to label them as prostitutes and, with that, give them lifelong criminal records. Our social welfare system too often fails to provide the necessary services to help these victims.

The agenda that our female colleagues put forth marks a huge step forward by Congress in addressing this national crisis. We, as men, join them in this effort and support these principles and needed steps:

  • Law enforcement and prosecutors must treat trafficked girls as victims, not criminals.
  • Exploited and trafficked girls must receive the same legal support and protections as other rape victims and full protection under laws governing child abuse.
  • Social services must provide victims with healing, as well as community education programs, to help everyone better understand the nature of a victimhood that most often includes broken homes, broken relationships and a welfare system that allows kids to fall through the cracks.

But the most significant point still focuses on demand.

To be sure, the last decade has seen significant federal and state efforts to go after traffickers – most of whom are men. But virtually none of the various task forces is charged with the dual responsibility of targeting buyers – most of whom are also men.

That must change. And our laws must be clear. Anyone who buys or sells a child will be caught and punished accordingly, under the full weight of local, state, and federal enforcement agencies. Men, as well as women, need to get behind making both our system of laws and penalties airtight in that respect.

On the demand side, there is a cultural component as well as a parent/guardian component at work. Every parent knows that protecting our kids while giving them the independence they need to learn and grow is a delicate balancing act.

In the meantime, as congressmen from different sides of the aisle, who are also fathers, we are pressing our colleagues, both male and female, to help assure that Congress, the Justice Department, and the White House address the issue of demand, along with the need for tougher laws and policies, in a shared effort to end this form of modern-day slavery.

That is our Father's Day gift to America's most vulnerable daughters.

Rep. Rick Nolan is a Minnesota Democrat. Rep. Ted Poe is a Texas Republican and founder of the Victims' Rights Caucus.

By POLITICO

 

A generation can seem like a century in the Internet age. Constant innovation is transforming the way we work, learn, communicate and even relax. Advances in technology are essential to our global competitiveness and economic growth. Change usually brings challenge, and at times, our laws must adapt to reap the benefits of innovation without abridging our civil liberties, a challenge our government has been reluctant to accept.

The Electronic Communications Privacy Act was passed in 1986, 27 years ago, a virtual eternity in the Internet age. Despite its modern-sounding name, ECPA predates the World Wide Web. It was written when few people owned home computers and even fewer communicated by email. Those who did rarely kept their old emails. Hard drives were small and expensive. Email service providers offered limited storage capacity. No one knew what the “cloud” was or even anticipated that it could exist.

Back then, lawmakers believed they could protect the privacy of Americans by restricting government’s authority to read their email without a search warrant to content older than 180 days. They couldn’t imagine why or how anyone would store email that long. My, times have changed.

The world of 1986 is gone, and it has been replaced by a world with free, unlimited email storage, high-speed broadband and cloud computing. In today’s world, we keep many of our most personal possessions online indefinitely: family photographs, schoolwork, sensitive communications, financial records, business plans, personal calendars and even weekend shopping lists.

The way we communicate electronically has changed, but the law related to its privacy has not. ECPA allows government agencies to demand from service providers any email, any documents, anything at all that we’ve stored online for longer than 180 days. Big government can call on a private company to turn over your information if it’s been stored online for more than six months. This circumvents the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition against “unreasonable searches and seizures” of Americans’ “persons, houses, papers and personal effects,” except when there is probable cause to believe a crime is being committed and a judge has issued a search warrant. Our right to privacy has been curtailed by a law written for a time that exists only in memory, For technology, that seems as outdated to us as the telegraph.

The government can’t tap our phones without a search warrant. It can’t read our mail without a warrant or enter our homes, or search records that we keep in file cabinets. But ECPA authorizes the government to read emails and social media messages or any property we store in the “cloud” without a warrant and without evidence that we are engaged in criminal behavior. That’s an unnecessary invasion of privacy that reduces every American’s freedom. Why should the law treat digital data stored in the “cloud” any differently than papers stored in a file cabinet in our home? It doesn’t make any sense.

Cloud-based services have become indispensable to the success of Texas and U.S. businesses, especially small businesses and startup companies. The global cloud market is expected to reach a value of more than $240 billion by the next decade. American companies invented cloud computing, and we should dominate the global market. The worst thing that we could do to our competitiveness is to hold American companies back with outdated laws. But that’s what’s happening right now.

 

The government’s unrestricted authority to demand production of private information stored in the cloud “will kill cloud computing” by destroying confidence in U.S.-based services and driving businesses to other countries, which have stronger privacy protections. That’s what the CEO of Data Foundry, a Texas-based data services provider has warned. Unless we act now, we are approaching a time when other countries possess greater safeguards for personal privacy than those assured by the country founded on the ideals of universal liberty.

To avoid this prospect, we must modernize our laws to respect our rights when applied to the modern realities of the digital world. Reps. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), Suzan DelBene (D-Wash.) and I have introduced bipartisan legislation, the Online Communications and Geolocation Protection Act, to do just that by revising an outdated ECPA to protect Internet users from intrusive and unwarranted government surveillance.

H.R. 983 requires the government to show probable cause and obtain a search warrant to access electronic communications just as it would to tap someone’s telephone. The government would need a warrant to compel service providers to produce documents stored in the cloud and to intercept or demand disclosure of personal location information generated by our cellphone and other mobile devices over time.

Technology may change, but the Constitution does not. We’ve written the legislation to be technology neutral so our privacy safeguards can’t be weakened by future innovations. It will encourage the growth of cloud computing in Texas and across the U.S. — and improve our competitiveness in world markets. That would create and protect American jobs. Most important, it reaffirms that while the pace of change in our world is ever accelerating, our founding ideals and civil liberties will exist unabridged forever. And that’s just the way it is.



The Hill

January 4, 2013

By Reps. Ted Poe (R-Texas) and Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.)

One night in 1985, when Lavinia Masters was 13 years old, she said goodnight and went to sleep in her Dallas home. She awoke suddenly to find a knife at her throat and an intruder sexually assaulting her.
 
On an ordinary Monday afternoon in 1996, Kristin Yorke was at home in New York City when her roommate returned from work. Unbeknownst to them both, a stranger lurked, forced his way into their apartment and raped both women.

Unfortunately, these women had to wait far too long to get justice. After both crimes, the victims contacted the police, went to the hospital and had DNA evidence collected in a rape kit, a critically important tool that gathers forensic evidence to link a rapist to a crime. Unfortunately for many victims, rape kits often sit on the shelves of evidence rooms across the country - some untested for years, some discarded before ever being tested and some languish for so long that the statute of limitations on the crime of rape has expired. And so was the case for Lavinia and Kristin. While their circumstances were different, their rape kits eventually ended up on a shelf in a storage facility. Victims should not be robbed of justice because of a bureaucratic backlog.
 
Lavinia’s evidence sat untested for two decades. She took it upon herself to contact the Dallas Police Department when she learned about a program that helped process backlogged rape evidence. While it took some time for her kit to be found and tested, she discovered that her assailant, Kevin Glen Turner, was in jail for other crimes. If he had been caught earlier, perhaps he would not have been out on the street to continue his crime sprees. Sadly for Lavinia, she was denied justice in court because the statute of limitations had run.
 
Kristin didn’t think justice would ever be served until a proactive Assistant District Attorney decided to have her kit tested in 2005, with newer technology as the statute of limitations was drawing near. Once the evidence was tested, she learned that it matched that of Leroy Johnson, who like Lavinia’s rapist, had been convicted of various other crimes including rape. The discovery of Kristin and her former roommate’s evidence put him behind bars for two consecutive terms of 25 years without parole, ensuring that he cannot harm anyone else ever again.
 
Lavinia and Kristin’s stories are not isolated. Across the country, rape kits sit on shelves, denying women justice. There are multiple reasons for the backlog – from low prioritization of the evidence to lack of funding and resources. But, regardless of the reasons, this issue has reached epidemic proportions. That’s why we’ve introduced the SAFER Act, a companion bill to legislation introduced by Senators John Cornyn (R-Texas) and Michael Bennet (D-Colo.). SAFER would allow existing funds to be used to provide grants to states and localities to audit their rape kit backlog as well as require aggregate data to be posted online to help track the progress and results of these audits. SAFER also increases the amount of current funds that can be used directly to test rape kits.
 
It’s time Congress passed this bipartisan measure that would allow criminal evidence to be accounted for, ultimately helping rape victims to receive the justice that they deserve.

Poe, a Republican from Texas, is the co-founder and co-chairman of the Victims' Rights Caucus and the leade sponsor of the SAFER Act. Maloney is a member of the Victims' Rights Caucus and the lead Democrat sponsor of the SAFER Act.