Posted on June 25, 2015 in Countdown

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Missing the Point

With national attention on the grief and disbelief in Charleston, South Carolina now is the appropriate time to talk about racism, right? Well, many in the media and on the campaign trail would rather not. Whether deflecting it to a debate about if it was terrorism or not, if it was targeting faith or race, or if it was a gun rights issue or not, the coverage of Charleston is doing its best to avoid the substantive conversation about racism that has been building – and then receding—throughout the Obama presidency. This is about the continued existence, popularity, and denial of racism in American culture (which is in some cases subsidized by U.S. tax-payers). Taking down the confederate flag is not the end of this conversation, but it is an obvious start. So let’s not be too quick to celebrate racism’s retreat, when the issue is much more violent and deep-seated than we care to acknowledge or discuss.

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In Defense of Civil Rights & Civil Liberties

Last week, the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals in New York ruled in favor of protecting civil rights and civil liberties and against exempting government officials as they implement unlawful national security practices. In the aftermath of September 11, 2001, the Bush administration instituted several far-reaching practices that were intended to bolster national security. This particular ruling provided eight men, who were arrested for immigration violations and unlawfully detained in the wake of 9/11, the ability to proceed with lawsuits against Bush officials for violating their constitutional rights. The lawsuit, which was filed over 13 years ago, specifically names several prominent Bush-era officials like former Attorney General John Ashcroft and former Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Robert Mueller.  Maybe this ruling can begin the redress process that is much needed.

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'Deliberate' Mistakes

Former Israeli Ambassador to the United States Michael Oren took to the opinion pages to cast blame on President Barack Obama and absolve Israeli PM Netanyahu of any fault in what he perceives as a rocky U.S.-Israel relationship. Oren said in his problematic Wall Street Journal op-ed that both leaders made mistakes but only one did so "deliberately"—a contradiction in terms but OK. Even Netanyahu's unprecedented and insulting speech to a joint session of congress, which Oren concedes was a mistake, is ultimately blamed on President Obama for his Administration's decision to enter negotiations with Iran. The piece prompted a sharp rebuke from U.S. officials, with State Department Spokesperson John Kirby saying Oren's account "is absolutely inaccurate and false, and doesn't reflect what actually happened." Piling on and to generate even more buzz for his book—which has problems of its own—Oren penned another attention grabbing op-ed in Foreign Policy. Oren, a sitting member of Israeli parliament bizarrely claims that somehow the abandonment of Obama's Christian mother's Muslim husbands led the President to "seek acceptance by their co-religionists." Criticisms came from all over. If you're trying to promote a book, making counterfactual statements and displaying your lack of grasp on reality isn't the best way to do it.

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KEEP OUT

This week, a Congressional Subcommittee Hearing, chaired by the one and only Peter King, on admitting Syrian refugees to the U.S. provided no real solutions. Witnesses took turns proclaiming that we should not admit Syrians to the U.S. because there is not enough American intelligence in Syria to adequately evaluate refugees and their suspected ties to terrorism. But even without perfect on the ground intelligence, we can certainly examine refugees with our extremely rigorous vetting process. The vast, vast majority of Syrian refugees are victims of terrorism, not advocates of it, and U.S. State Department officials have asserted that “anyone who … DHS has any doubts about will not get into the country.” No current government officials—who would have the knowledge and context to speak to these issues substantively—were present as witnesses at the hearing. To the simple question of how many Syrian refugees the U.S. has accepted, the “experts” on the panel sheepishly admitted that they did not know (although they each incorrectly estimated “a few thousand.” The number is actually less than 1,000). The American response to Syrian refugees is a disgrace, especially in the wake of German and Canadian declarations to accept 30,000 and 13,000 Syrians, respectively. Are Germany and Canada now at an extreme risk of terror? As it stands, history will look back at the Syrian crisis and fault America for not doing more.

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American Muslims Go Green

For the past few weeks, many American Muslims across the country have been gearing up for the start of the holy month of Ramadan. Ramadan is a time for Muslims around the world to give back to their communities, provide charity, and self-reflect.  It is no secret that during these hot and long summer days, fasting is not an easy task. The Economist released a chart detailing the length of fasting times in Muslim majority countries and selection of other countries in the World. With days ranging from a nearly 15 hour fast time in the U.S. to almost 19 hours for Muslims in Sweden this may be the most challenging month of Ramadan for many. Despite the lengthy days, there are many amazing stories of American Muslims creating positive change in their community. One group, Green Ramadan, calls on observers to be more mindful of their waste production, use better judgement purchasing wasteful products, and to do their best to recycle. The group tries to approach a different environmental cause to focus on each Ramadan. In its third year, the focus is to get mosques and community members who host private iftars to eliminate the use of Styrofoam. Last year, they focused on reusable iftar kits to avoid the purchase of plastic plates and utensils.