Posted on July 15, 2015 in Countdown

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Courage At Its Best

Following years of tense negotiations between the P5+1 nations and Iran, a nuclear deal with Iran was finally agreed to on Tuesday. According to President Obama, the deal will place strict limits on Tehran’s nuclear program, and in exchange, the P5+1 nations will phase in the lifting of sanctions, providing Iran desperately sought after economic relief. As if on cue, several Republican presidential candidates and members of Congress weighed in on this historic deal. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), a GOP presidential candidate, stated that the deal is “akin to declaring war on Israel and Sunni Arabs,” former Florida Governor and current presidential candidate Jeb Bush criticized the deal, calling it a product of “appeasement,” and newly announced GOP candidate, and Wisconsin Governor, Scott Walker asserted that any future president “would not be bound by this diplomatic retreat.” As AAI President Jim Zogby noted, critics of the deal only propose policies that would fail to produce a constructive result. Additionally, he points out that this historic breakthrough must be utilized as a stepping-stone to resolve broader conflicts in the Middle East. Now that the deal is completed, the Obama Administration must get it through a hard road ahead in Congress. We can only hope that members of Congress demonstrate the same courage U.S. diplomats did in Vienna.  

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When Bernie Met Hillary

There must have been tangible tension in the air at a lunchtime gathering on Tuesday, as Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton sat together for the Senate Democratic Caucus meeting. Rival candidates meet with each other all the time, so normally there wouldn’t be any oddities about a routine caucus meeting, but this particular encounter was more uncomfortable. Ms. Clinton has the backing of 30 Democratic Senators, to Sanders’s 0, and she has been playing the part of a presumed nominee well. Tip-toeing around divisive issues and falling into line with big-time donors, Ms. Clinton has performed all of the dull dances to perfection. But Sanders’s straight talk and unconventional – but righteous – campaign route has resulted in his evolving from an irritating nuisance to a significant pain in the neck of Hillary Clinton's campaign. It is Sanders’s surge that created the tension on Tuesday. Clinton seemed to throw a patronizing compliment at the Vermont Senator, praising the “enthusiasm his campaign has brought to the race.” Sanders immediately outlined his differences with Hillary following the meeting. While campaigning, Hillary has not yet mentioned Bernie Sanders by name, although she may soon find herself having to actually acknowledge her political rival.

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Scott Walker Steps In

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker hit the ground running Monday when he formally announced his campaign for the Republican nomination near the top of the Republican field when many of the other candidates are struggling to raise poll numbers. But the walk up to his announcement was not free of stumbles. Scott Walker’s twitter account jumped the gun Friday by tweeting an announcement of his candidacy days before he was set to officially announce. Twitter has taken responsibility for the accidental tweet, stating that Walker’s team was not at fault for the leak. Governor Walker garnered conservative backing after launching an attack on public sector unions in Wisconsin, passing legislation that took away the ability of public sector unions to bargain collectively over pensions and healthcare. His actions provoked outrage by union workers throughout Wisconsin, causing the state to hold a recall election in 2012 as a referendum on his union-busting bill. Walker seems to be banking on the somewhat bland, everyman persona he has fostered. Whether his low-key approach can make an impact amidst the bombast of the current Republican field remains to be seen. 

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The Green Line Ain't So Green

That sneaky pro-settlement amendment attached to President Obama’s prized trade legislation—which he just signed into law—is making a real mess of the administration’s policymaking and press relations. State Department spokesman John Kirby went on record to say that the bill has not and will not change the longstanding position that the U.S. does not recognize Israel’s settlements and counts them as a final status issue for peace negotiations. Some speculated that Kirby was essentially saying that Obama had no plans of actually making the amendment part of U.S. trade objectives in any way that would change the status of U.S. policy. Just words on a paper, right? Well, some are saying that it’s more – and it’s not within Executive authority to override, line veto, or otherwise ignore trade legislation. And President Obama’s quandary doesn’t end there. The most dangerous form of the pro-settlement legislation, which is attached to a customs bill and has actual repercussions on U.S. business practices, is still alive and well. The Senate and House both passed similar versions of the customs bill – so now a conference committee is tasked with reconciling the two versions. There is a small hope that the pro-settlement language is excised, but it’s seeming more and more like Congress has quietly out-maneuvered Obama on settlement policy—and dangerously changed decades-old U.S. policy on illegal Israel settlements.

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Take Me Back

Things are coming full circle for the defense department and the technology sector. Many of the tech breakthroughs that are integral elements of our daily lives like the Internet or GPS were originally developed with defense spending and tech partnerships. Last week Defense Secretary Ashton Carter went out to Sun Valley, Idaho to address an annual conference attended by such tech luminaries as Tesla's Elon Musk and Apple's Tim Cook. The idea was that Carter would use the opportunity to further explain his plan to bring the tech sector back into the national security fold to help drive innovation on challenges such as cyber security. Following the revelations about widespread government spying from NSA contractor Edward Snowden, Carter hoped to rebuild the connections between the Pentagon and the tech and innovation sector.  It may be a difficult ask, earlier this year President Obama held a cyber security summit and the heads of Google, Yahoo, and Facebook all turned down the invite. It's hard to regain trust when you've been carrying out a secret surveillance program for years.