Posted on October 08, 2015 in Countdown

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The Right and Wrong Response

Every time a tragedy happens we look to our leaders for guidance. For the eleventh time in the 7 years of his presidency, Barack Obama has addressed a nation left reeling after yet another deadly mass shooting, "We've become numb to this," he said. And as with previous shootings some of the same tired statements emerged, from insisting that it's not a matter of guns but only 'a mental health issue' (though there is no follow up), to the ludicrous argument that teachers should be armed, to calls for "a good guy with a gun" to stop these heinous acts. The President took a different tack in his response to the most recent attack, he spoke strongly and clearly in his call on the nation to move beyond merely expressing "thoughts and prayers." He called for substantive action to prevent this "carnage" which has "somehow become routine." In a preemptive response to the requisite criticism about "politicizing" this issue he called on all Americans to thoughtfully consider this issue saying "it is relevant to our common life together." In particular he turned to the media and said they should tally up the number of Americans killed by terrorists against those killed by guns. The numbers speak for themselves. They also reveal the uncomfortable imbalance of whole agencies established and over a trillion dollars spent to fight terror on the one hand, with willful intransigence in Congress against passing common sense gun laws that kill hundreds of thousands of Americans on the other. It's refreshing to see the President call on Americans to be engaged and active and to make their voice heard on this crucial issue. 

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Back to the Palestinians

A quick scan of Israeli newspapers make it very clear: Now that the Iran deal has been won, or lost - depending, Palestinians have once again become problem #1 for Israel.  Speculation of a “third intifada” has been nearly constant since the second intifada petered out, but this time around it is becoming more a declarative statement rather than a question. Having tried and failed to make a splash at the United Nations General Assembly a week ago, PA President Mahmoud Abbas is no longer at the helm of the Oslo principles, and is definitely no longer at the helm of the Palestinian street (if he ever was). A sharp rise in terror attacks targeting Israeli civilians in Jerusalem—a tactic that became pretty infrequent following the second intifada in 2005—is stoking fears and flames in Israel’s general populace. It seems as though Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu isn’t waiting for the verdict on whether this is or is not the beginning of a new uprising; in a Facebook post (a traditional theater for warcraft) Bibi declared, "We are in an all-out war against terrorism and we will wage it aggressively.” Many speculate that Israel’s escalation of the situation on the ground (closing the Haram ash Sharif, permitting sniper fire on stone throwers, increasingly large presence of IDF soldiers at checkpoints) is creating a self-justified pretext for a massive takeover of Palestinian areas in the West Bank. Lack of progress in any sort of peace negotiations has been become routine and outbreaks of violence, regrettably, appear to be the only thing to bring the Palestinian issue back into the headlines.

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Dangerous Escalation

Russian President Vladimir Putin announced last week that he would begin airstrikes in Syria against ISIL forces. Although Putin claims that Russia’s intentions are to weaken ISIL, he’s already being criticized for hitting targets that are “in fact the Syrian opposition groups fighting President Assad,” which could further heighten the conflict and potentially drive more recruits to ISIL. Known Russian airstrike locations are in predominately rebel-controlled territory, while others are in Syrian government-controlled areas and only a couple in ISIL territories. Russia is having a hard time staying within Syrian borders, too. On Sunday, a Russian fighter jet wandered into Turkish airspace for five minutes, which Russia admitted was a “mistake” caused by bad weather. Turkey spoke with Russia and made it clear that this mistake “would not happen again.” Only one day later it happened again. On Monday, Syrian missile systems “were locked onto Turkish planes for more than four minutes” and another fighter jet was in Turkish airspace. As the second largest contributor of troops to NATO, Turkey no longer sees these airspace violations as an accident. Russia is also preparing to send ground forces into Syria, causing NATO’s concern about Russian activity to grow even stronger. Russia claims it’s in Syria to exclusively combat ISIL, but their actions tell a different story. 

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From Bad to Worse in Alabama

From the 1965 Selma protests that brought about the Voting Rights Act of 1965 to the landmark Shelby County v. Holder Supreme Court decision in 2013 that gutted the Voting Rights Act, Alabama has served as bellwether on the status of voting rights in America.  Sadly, the state of voting rights in Alabama took another considerable hit when the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency announced the closure of 31 DMV offices in mostly rural, low income, and African American communities. These 31 locations (which are the only means of obtaining a government-issued driver license documentation) serviced eight out of the ten counties with the highest concentration of African American voters. In 2011 Alabama’s GOP legislature passed a strict voter ID law requiring government-issued ID with a photo without federal approval, and this newest development will not be subject to federal approval either. As we get closer and closer to the 2016 presidential election, this type of development is a great injustice to the thousands of citizens who deserve to have their voices heard at the ballot box. We discussed this issue in depth at our congressional briefing and it was clear that more must be done to protect this constitutional right guaranteed to all citizens. 

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Egypt, Don’t Play Our Sad Games

It’s one thing to see bigotry in the U.S. media pop up during campaign season, it’s another for Egypt’s media to join the echo chamber of absurd American punditry. Last week Egypt’s Al-Ahram newspaper carried a story accusing Hillary Clinton of courting the American Muslim vote because of the influence of her “Muslim Brotherhood-linked assistant Huma Abedin.” The tiresome accusation against Abedin is infuriating when ignorant Americans try to whip conspiracies, but it's a shameful sacrifice of journalism in Egypt. What’s more, the op-ed was not only blatantly Islamophobic, it nonchalantly juxtaposed Clinton’s relationship with Abedin with a casual reference to the “Jewish American vote,” as if the writer didn’t buy into a deeply conspiratorial understanding of it. Come on Al-Ahram, don’t play this game.

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Kochs Stoke Fiorina Fire

Republican candidate Carly Fiorina has been surging in the polls ever since her impressive performance in the Republican presidential debate last month, drawing more attention to her ‘Washington outsider’ campaign. As a former technology executive, she has demonstrated her Washington credentials with “her political acumen and grasp of policy issues.” With the number two spot in New Hampshire and number three spot in Iowa, the former Hewlett-Packard executive is mustering support from a crowd of wealthy donors. Fiorina is reportedly on a short list of candidates the Koch brothers may support with their $1 billion war chest. The billionaire Kochs previously endorsed Fiorina in 2010 when she ran against Democrat Barbara Boxer for a California Senate seat and lost.  With checks in hand, mega donors are taking a serious look at the Washington outsider with a Republican insider strategy.