Posted on May 12, 2016 in Countdown

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The Tone and Team of the Donald

Today might just be the day that Donald Trump changes his tune, after all, he is meeting in a much hyped closed-door meeting with the highly respectable GOP leader and Speaker of the House, Congressman Paul Ryan. But we’re not holding our breath. While the media is laser focused on finding small hints of moderation in Trump’s rhetoric (15 hours and counting without a tweet!), some are suggesting that Trump has softened his “Muslim ban” policy over the course of the last day. We’re not buying it. How can he possibly have softened his tone while at the same time considering a commission headed by none other than Rudy Giuliani to “figure out” what’s going on with “radical Islam” (his words, not ours). It’s infinitely hard to believe that Trump is softening his tone on the bigoted ban while at the same time finding ways to implement it. Giuliani did not seem to know much about Trump’s commission yesterday, but he did offer his deep thoughts that studying “how to distinguish between all the good people who are Muslims and the bad ones, is a good idea.” Are we really at the point where the good Muslim vs. bad Muslim paradigm has become not only an ignorant sound byte, but now an actual field of government research? We sure hope Paul Ryan talks him down from his newest terrible idea.


Religious Tests and Politics Should Not Mix

While Ryan goes to work on Trump behind closed doors, a bipartisan group in the House of Representatives has drafted legislation to prevent Mr. Trump from implementing his “Muslim ban.” We never thought we’d be at a place in American political discourse where we’d have to be condemning a ban on any religious group, but now that we’re here we are learning that the immigration law isn’t actually airtight on the illegality of the idea. Rep. Don Beyer (D, VA-8) has lead the charge to change the law so that it “prohibits denying admission to immigrants, refugees and tourists based on religion or lack of religious beliefs.“ Trump is busying himself with all the exceptions to the ban he is benevolently willing to make –like Sadiq Khan, the recently elected Mayor of London – but hopefully, a President Trump would not have even a shred of legal standing to do so.


Do It for the Kids of Palestine

Just as the Obama Administration is easing in to the lame duck phase of his final term, subtle shifts are starting to take shape in Obama’s long held “we can’t make it happen” approach to managing the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. On the international scene, the US is reportedly accepting a “tougher tone” in a forthcoming Quartet report on Israeli settlement activity. To be sure, this is the opposite of ground-breaking. It’s actually quite depressing that after 7 years, the Obama administration has only now found the gumption to stop censoring international criticism of Israel’s continuing land theft, despite several golden opportunities to condemn it. President Obama’s State Department will soon get served another opportunity by Congress to put its principles into practice when Congresswoman Betty McCollum (D, MN-4) hits “send” on a letter requesting the appointment of a Special Envoy for Palestinian Youth. The impact of the occupations ugly realities on children has been extensively covered and researched by several groups on the ground who see how truly catastrophic it is. Join them – and us – in supporting the call for President Obama to do something about it.


Caution, Surveillance Underway

It’s been a big year for both sides of the surveillance debate in the United States. After passing the USA Freedom Act last year, surveillance has taken on new manifestations, justifications, and technologies in the fight against ISIS domestically. We’ve seen heated encryption battles between the FBI and tech companies, disputes over the extent of mass data collection, fights over the extension of warrantless searches of collected data, and an extra-Congressional approval of new hacking privileges in criminal investigations. All of this comes as privacy and transparency activists are gearing up for an opportunity to reform a central surveillance bill called the FISA Amendments Act (FAA), which needs to be reauthorized by Congress before December 2017. Just this week, the Senate held a hearing to begin their review of the surveillance programs run under FAA auspices, most importantly the mass collection of U.S. persons data under section 702 of the bill. Congress has many reasons to act, which we’re working to remind them of every day. While understanding that not all surveillance is bad, the chilling effects of mass surveillance are detrimental to the spirit of America, and taking away privacy protections like encryption have a discriminatory impact on communities of color – including ours. Once again, this is a fight to bring balance to the need for national security and the absolute imperative of protecting civil rights of U.S. citizens.


The Rhodes We Travelled in the Middle East

It has not been a good week for President Obama’s Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications, Ben Rhodes. The guy responsible for spinning the President’s foreign policy got spun pretty bad himself in a very poorly received profile in the New York Times Magazine. Inside the Washington, D.C. beltway the portrait has lit a fire under the “Blob,” as Rhodes calls the community of foreign policy organizations and reporters, both because of the un-truths of the author David Samuels, and because of the condescending quotes from Rhodes. For us, many of the core takeaways from Rhodes’ approach to foreign policy reminded us of the painful moments in last month’s lengthy profile of President Obama himself. It’s clear that Rhodes – like his boss – has adopted the “we can’t fix it” approach to the Middle East, and have proceeded to cast their approach as a correction from the over exuberance of President Bush’s Iraq war. Even though there is not a grand solution for stabilizing the Middle East, we just wish the Obama Administration would have tried.


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