Posted on February 06, 2013 in Countdown
If you were disappointed with George W. Bush’s record on civil liberties, no need to worry anymore! President Obama’s assassination powers now make Bush look like a card-carrying ACLU member by comparison. Yesterday, a leaked Department of Justice memo made headlines for its Orwellian guidelines that determine the circumstances in which the administration can kill American citizens. Apparently, this is a debatable topic. Here’s what the memo stipulates: An American citizen can be killed only when the target “poses an imminent threat of violent attack,” and a drone can be used only if capturing the individual is prohibitively dangerous to US forces. So what constitutes “an imminent threat”? You’ll have to ask a mysterious “informed, high-level” official because that person, according to the guidelines, is responsible for making that assessment. Oh, but good luck finding out what constitutes an “informed, high-level” official, because the administration isn’t going to tell you what that means either. Absent oversight, it’s not surprising this is happening. But Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) isn’t going to let the status quo stand. He’s banded together with a bipartisan group of Senators to demand further answers from the Justice Department like: “how much evidence does the President need to decide that a particular American is part of a terrorist group?” and “can the President order intelligence agencies or the military to kill an American who is inside the United States?” We’re not sure we even want to know the answers, but these and other critical questions will hopefully be posed to John Brennan, one of the drone program’s chief architects, when he appears tomorrow for his confirmation hearing as the next director of the CIA.
College campuses are supposed to be safe havens for disagreement, freedom of expression, and the exchange of ideas. There is a dangerous trend, however, of targeting outspoken critics of Israel on college campuses, and Brooklyn College’s political science department is currently being pressured to rescind its co-sponsorship of an event featuring boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS)activists Omar Barghouti and Judith Butler. The event became a “controversy” when none other than Alan Dershowitz, a BC alumnus, raised objections over their critical views of Israel. Following suit, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, other city officials, and Congressman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) wrote a letter to the school’s president alleging that an event hosting BDS would represent the “antithesis of academic freedom.” Huh? The reasoning behind their attempt to prevent someone from speaking in order to defend academic freedom is just as brilliant as you’d expect: “We collectively believe that the BDS movement is a wrongheaded and destructive one, and an obstacle to our collective hope for a peaceful two-state solution.” This letter would be bad enough, but talks of halting city funds to the college, which is within the City University of New York (CUNY) system, have also surfaced. In the wake of Irvine 11 and DePaul University’s decision to deny Norman Finkelstein tenure because of his outspoken criticism of Israel, we don’t need to tell you why this is a real problem. One positive thing, though: Paisly Currah, Chair of the Political Science Department at BC, is not backing down and has defended the event.
In this post-election climate, it looks like something will happen soon on Comprehensive Immigration Reform. National momentum seems to be causing a three-way race between the President, the Senate, and the House, who all tried to outdo each other on leadership on this issue. First, the White House announced that it will release the President’s plan on immigration reform last Tuesday in Nevada. Then, 8 Senators, known as the “Gang of Eight,” jumped out ahead and announced the framework for their bill ahead of the President on Monday. And finally, what we found pretty comical, the Republican-led House decided to hold its first hearing on immigration policy. The House hearing yesterday was nothing short of a spectacular 5-hour debacle, including a protest by Dream Act activists, and countless outrageous statements by GOP members. Our personal favorite was the introduction by Republican members of a “middle ground” option that would provide legal residency (but not citizenship) for some 11 million undocumented immigrants currently living and working in the US, which is a pathway to citizenship for exactly...nobody. While some of the proposals may prove to be entertaining at best, we are thrilled there is finally movement on reform efforts. AAI also submitted a statement for the record advocating for clear provisions that prohibit racial profiling and inappropriate use of force at the borders in any comprehensive immigration reform bill. After all, if the government keeps targeting Arab American immigrants, where will American get all of its lawyers, doctors, engineers, and liquor store owners?
If you weren’t subjected to last week’s Senate confirmation hearing for Chuck Hagel, lucky you. The day-long proceedings produced some of the most bizarre and inappropriate lines of questioning against the Republican former Senator, particularly from his own party. Much of the day centered on questioning Hagel’s commitment to the ever-so-special "special relationship” between Israel and the US. While Hagel affirmed his support for Israel multiple times, including touting a voting record to prove it, he hit a wall of pandering of extraordinary proportions. One of our favorite bricks in that wall was Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) who, while refusing to look Hagel in the eye, asked him without the slightest hint of irony to “name one person here who’s been intimidated by the Jewish lobby.” The only way that argument could have been more circular is if he asked “name one person here who’s asked you to name one person here.” Responding to the Graham’s attacks on Hagel in an article, Harvard professor Stephen Walt, co-author of The Israel Lobby, took the opportunity to thank the Senate Armed Services Committee for “providing such a compelling vindication of our views. As Rosie Gray and [sic] Andrew Kaczynski of Buzzfeed noted, at the hearing on Chuck Hagel Israel was mentioned 166 times, and Iran (a problem closely linked to Israel) 144 times. Afghanistan was mentioned only 20 times, and the problem of suicides of U.S. troops only twice. Glad to see that those Senators have their priorities straight.” While giving Professor Walt an excellent chance to highlight just how right he is, the unfortunate hearing did little to enlighten anyone on the key issues facing DOD, and will (hopefully) fail to derail Hagel’s appointment, which is expected to be voted on next week.
While we track important issues and read things that make us crazy, we’re also closely following two Arab American candidates: One in New York City and one in Richardson, Texas. In New York, Zead Ramadan, a self-made business owner and active community member, is galvanizing community support in his bid for a seat representing the 7th district of New York’s city council, which encompasses a large chunk of the upper west side of Manhattan. Ramadan’s campaign is unique in that if elected, he will be the first Arab American to sit on New York’s City Council. And the proud New Yorker also wears his ethnicity on his sleeve—touts it even—demonstrating just how far we’ve come in terms of Arab American participation in the political process. In Richardson, Texas, mayoral candidate Amir Omar continues to rack up important community endorsements. The other week, Omar, who formerly served on the Richardson City Council, was endorsed by the Richardson Firefighters Association, an important endorsement for the candidate. We’ll be bringing you much more on these important races for New York, Richardson, and the Arab American community.
The epic battle for the soul–and control–of the Republican Party rages on. At the center of this battle is Karl Rove’s Conservative Victory Project, an initiative that was birthed by Rove’s Super PAC American Crossroads. Rove, a former Bush Advisor, is trying to use the Conservative Victory Project as a vehicle to prevent the Tea Party from “high-jacking” the Republican Party, an endeavor which he’s failing at spectacularly. Rove’s argument is simple: 2012 was bad for the GOP, and with candidates like Todd Akin and Richard Murdoch defending rape, and Christine O’Donnell trying to convince the public that she is indeed not a witch, the GOP’s image has to be controlled. But Tea Partiers are hitting back. They consider the Conservative Victory Project to be the “Conservative Defeat Project,” and have cited American Crossroads’ dismal 2012 track record of failing to support any winning candidate in 2012. So, while a case can be made that Rove’s initiative is out of step with a burgeoning far-right conservative GOP movement, another case can be made against propping up candidates like, say, Sen. Ted Cruz from Texas who proves Rove’s point about crazy rhetoric when he says Israel is incapable of war crimes because of the Holocaust. But then again, Rove isn’t likely to cite Cruz’s Israel’s comments as an example. And so the battle continues…
Senator John McCain (R-AZ) has never met a country he didn’t want to bomb, but he’s always reserved a special place in his heart for Iran. Yesterday, the Senator took his rhetoric to a whole new level, and by “new” we mean “racist.” On Monday, he sent the following tweet: “So Ahmadinejad wants to be first Iranian in space - wasn't he just there last week? ‘Iran launches monkey into space.’” Unsurprisingly, his comments ignited a firestorm online, with countless responses calling him a “racist,” a “bigot,” and other things we can’t reproduce here. But the response we found most interesting came from Arab American Congressman Justin Amash (R-MI), who responded to McCain’s half-hearted apology with a tweet of his own: “Maybe you should wisen up & not make racist jokes. “@SenJohnMcCain: Re: Iran space tweet - lighten up folks, can't everyone take a joke?” Maybe the whole experience was humbling in enough that in the future McCain will just stick to his “A” material.