Power Players

  • ‘Going Clear’ on Scientology: Inside the Mysterious Church Popular in Hollywood

    David Kerley and Ali Dukakis at Power Players 1 yr ago

    Power Players

    While it boasts of membership from Hollywood’s A-list, including Tom Cruise and John Travolta, the inner-workings of the Church of Scientology remain largely a mystery to onlookers. But a new HBO documentary claims to expose the church's secrets through accounts of former members.

    Much like the faith it seeks to demystify, “Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief” has spurred a wave of controversy in the wake of its explosive allegations about life inside the church, its practices, and its deceased founder: Science-fiction author L. Ron Hubbard.

    Author and journalist Lawrence Wright, who wrote the book upon which the film is based, sat down with “Power Players” at the Four Seasons Hotel in Washington, D.C., for a discussion on the belief system and founding origin of Scientology.

    “The idea is that it's a step-by-step ladder to spiritual enlightenment, and if you follow the techniques ... you will purge your mind of fears and neuroses,” Wright explained. “Then, you'll be enlisted in this cause, which is to clear the planet, to save the planet and keep it from destroying itself.”

  • Out of this world: How life in space changed an astronaut’s outlook on life on Earth

    David Kerley, Richard Coolidge and Jordyn Phelps at Power Players 1 yr ago

    Power Players

    When Astronaut Ron Garan returned from a six-month stint onboard the International Space Station, he had a new perspective on life on Earth.

    “You really get hit in the gut with this sobering contradiction between the beauty of our planet on one hand and the unfortunate realities of life on our beautiful planet for a significant portion of its inhabitants,” Garan said of looking down at the Earth from space.

    So profound was the experience that Garan has since dedicated his life to finding ways to make the planet a more cooperative place and has written a book, “The Orbital Perspective,”outlining his vision. For starters, Garan suggests that humankind look to the International Space Station as an example of what is possible through international collaboration.

    “Take that collaboration, that international communication that built arguably the most complex complicated structure ever built and bring it down to Earth,” he said. “Bring the collaboration that built and sustains the International Space Station and put it in the context of our rapidly developing, hyper-interconnected global society.”

  • Likely 2016 candidate George Pataki says GOP letter to Iran was out of line

    Rick Klein, Olivier Knox and Jordyn Phelps at Power Players 1 yr ago

    Top Line

    Likely GOP presidential contender George Pataki scolded the 47 Republican senators for sending a letter to Iranian leaders, breaking with his party – and drawing the support of at least five of his potential rivals -- to argue that foreign negotiations should be conducted by President Obama and without the intervention of Congress. "Just imagine if, come 2017, there's a Republican president and a Democratic Congress: Would Republican candidates, would Republican senators want a Democratic Senate sending a letter to a country when the president is engaged in negotiations?”

    "I don't think so," the former Republican governor of New York said in an interview with "Top Line."

  • Iraqi Prime Minister calls on Muslim world to unite in fight against ISIS

    On the Radar

    Iraq’s prime minister says his country needs “much, much more support” than it is receiving from international partners, issuing a call specifically to other Muslim nations, in the fight against ISIS.

    “We need ammunition. We need armaments. We need training. And we need more air cover,” Haider al-Abadi, who replaced Nouri al-Maliki as prime minister in September, told “On the Radar” during a sit-down interview in Baghdad.

    “I'm calling on the Islamic world to rise up to this,” he said. “It is more dangerous to the Islamic world than the rest of the world. They're trying to damage our own religion. They try to take our own belief from us. They're trying to destroy what we have believed in for centuries.”

    One Muslim nation has already heeded Iraq’s call for help in great measure: Iran.

    Iran is playing a leading advisory role in Iraq’s largest military operation yet against ISIS: a mission to retake the city of Tikrit, which fell under ISIS control last summer.

    “Well, Iran is a neighbor,” al-Abadi explained. “And Iran feels itself under threat. So I think they are helping in in a lot of ways.”

    Iraq did not request U.S. assistance in carrying out the mission.

  • Spirited Republic: A tour through America’s stumbling history with booze

    David Kerley, Richard Coolidge and Jordyn Phelps at Power Players 1 yr ago

    Power Players

    U.S. history does not walk a straight line when it comes to the country’s relationship with alcohol.

    Americans have fluctuated between times when whiskey was as common to the breakfast table as coffee and other periods when an evening cocktail was considered a social taboo.

    The National Archives Museum is now raising a toast to the nation’s complicated history with booze with the debut of a new exhibit, aptly titled “Spirited Republic.”

    “The amount of alcohol we consumed went way up as the society became more individualistic, and the frontier became more prominent,” curator Bruce Bustard told “Power Players” on a sneak peek tour of the exhibit, which opens Friday.

    Standing in front of a display that measures how many gallons worth of alcohol the average American drank over time, the year 1830 towers above the rest. “In 1830, we consumed about 7.1 gallons of alcohol per person who was of legal age,” Bustard said.

    To put the 1830 figure in perspective, that’s about two-and-half times today’s national average.

    Drinking even had a role to play in lubricating American democracy in those early days.

  • Could self-proclaimed socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders become president?

    Power Players

    As the longest-serving Independent in Congress and a self-identified “democratic socialist,” Sen. Bernie Sanders has built his political career outside of traditional party politics.

    It's an approach that has served him well in independent-minded Vermont, a state he has called home for decades. Now Sanders is considering whether that approach would win on the national stage - the 2016 presidential campaign.

    His message: that big money interests have perverted America's political process and that it's time for the voters to stand up to the millionaires and billionaires. Sanders hammers it home in an accent that owes more to Brooklyn than Burlington. He’s a gruff, unflinching advocate for working men and women.

    “Are my views different than Republicans? Absolutely they are. Do I disagree with President Obama on some very important issues? Yes, I do,” Sanders told “Power Players” during a recent trip to Iowa. “And I think among Independents in this country, there would be a lot of support for me.”

    Though Sanders acknowledges that he would enter the race as a “significant underdog,” he cautioned against underestimating him.

  • How the real-life Frank Underwood is staring down the DHS showdown

    Jeff Zeleny, Jordyn Phelps and Greg Hughes at Power Players 1 yr ago

    The Fine Print

    What would Frank Underwood do?

    As the House of Representatives’ majority whip – a role famously depicted in the Netflix hit series “House of Cards” – it’s a question Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La., ponders as Capitol Hill faces a showdown over how to fund the Department of Homeland Security.

    “I think he’d storm over to the Senate chamber and just start maybe voting some people’s machines ‘yes’ to get the bill brought up,” Scalise joked of the fictional character played by Kevin Spacey. “He’d take matters into his own hands over in the Senate.”

    Scalise, who didn’t start watching “House of Cards” until after he became majority whip in August, said the fictional Washington depicted in the show bears only a limited semblance to reality.

    “They depict the Capitol and the hectic schedule. I mean everybody is running around from meeting to meeting and votes,” he said in an interview with “The Fine Print.” “But when it comes to the interaction between members, it’s a lot more collegial than I think is depicted there.”

    ABC News’ Richard Coolidge, John Parkinson, Ali Dukakis, Tom Thornton, Brian Yaklyvich and Gary Rosenberg contributed to this episode.

  • A Capitol high: Legal marijuana use begins in DC

    Power Players

    It’s now legal to get high in the nation’s capital, so long as you do it in private.

    A voter-approved initiative legalizing limited recreational use of marijuana took effect Thursday. But with some Republicans on Capitol Hill threatening legal action against the District of Columbia, the future of pot in the federal city remains a bit hazy.

    “It's legalization without commercialization,” Adam Eidinger, chairman of the DC Cannabis Campaign, told “Power Players.”

    While adults can now legally possess up to 2 ounces of marijuana -- about a large sandwich bag’s worth – it’s still against the law to buy or sell it and smoke in public, according to city officials.

    “There are no store fronts where people who are 21 and older can just walk in and buy a bag of marijuana, unless you're a medical marijuana patient,” said Eidinger, who’s has spent the last 15 years campaigning for legal pot in his hometown.

    For now, the only legal way to get weed is to grow it. Under the law, District residents are allowed up to six plants.

    “And they just can't sell it,” Eidinger said. “As soon as you start deriving income, you're violating the initiative.”

  • Rick Scott on ‘frustrating’ #Fangate and Jeb Bush’s 2016 prospects

    Jon Ward at Power Players 1 yr ago

    Top Line

    It was one of the most unforgettable debate moments of 2014.

    Former Florida Gov. Charlie Crist took his place on stage for a televised debate against Gov. Rick Scott. And for the first seven minutes of the live debate, Crist was the only candidate on the stage – accompanied only by a small electric fan whirling cool air behind his podium.

    In an interview with “Top Line,” Scott revealed what was going through his mind during the “fangate” incident – and said he was told the debate was being held up by Crist.

    “It was pretty frustrating,” the recently reelected Republican governor told “Top Line,” explaining that he was in a trailer away from the main building when his Democratic challenger took the stage at the debate’s start. “We were told he was not going to come out.”

    Prior to the debate’s start, the Scott campaign had protested Crist’s use of the fan as a violation of debate rules, which forbade the use of electronic devices at the podium.

    “We were waiting, and then he goes out, and so that was pretty frustrating,” he continued. “But we had a good debate and fortunately we won.”

    ABC News’ Ali Dukakis, Tom Thornton, Chris Carlson and Gale Marcus contributed to this episode.

  • Meet Iran’s first woman vice president

    On the Radar

    As the first female vice president of Iran and the head of Iran’s Environmental Protection Organization, Masoumeh Ebtekar may be the most powerful woman in Iran.

    But long before her current role, Americans came to know Ebtekar in 1979 as “Mary,” the English-speaking spokeswoman for the Iranian student group that overran the U.S. embassy in Tehran and took 52 Americans hostage.

    Thirty-six years after the hostage crisis, Ebtekar said Iranian society is open to dialogue and understanding with the American people, but that there is a persistent distrust of the U.S. government, specifically as it relates to the war against the militant group ISIS.

    “Well, I think there's a lot of skepticism about the role of the United States in dealing with ISIS, because the support they initially provided for ISIS in Syria strengthened this group at that time, and then also other reasons to believe this is not a genuine group, it somehow instigated or created by, I don’t know, a certain intelligence agency,” Ebtekar said, presumably alluding to the CIA, during an interview in Tehran.

    ABC News’ Brian Hartman, Afshin Abtahi, Tom Thornton and Ali Dukakis contributed to this episode.