Posted on September 08, 2016 in Countdown

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Commander in Chief or Commander in Confused

There's a full 60 days until Election Day, but the nation's first side-by-side look at the two major party candidates is only the beginning of what is sure to be a long and painful presidential debate season. Even though Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump did not share the stage at the same time last night, NBC's "Commander-in-Chief Forum" painted a pretty clear picture of who can command control of the debate stage. And it wasn't moderator Matt Lauer who, like all future debate moderators, had a seemingly impossible task of getting Trump to state some sensible, clear, specific policies on any topic. Lauer is getting ripped for spending 13 of 30 minutes with Clinton on her email scandal, but following a Friday afternoon news dump on the topic, we're not crying foul over Lauer's time management on what is the stickiest issue for Clinton in courting votes. But we do want to figure out how many minutes Lauer allowed Trump to go without stating an actual policy. We'd venture to say the full 30. Lauer's conversation with Trump and the audience full of veterans was pretty expansive, but we didn't come any closer to understanding what Trump would actually do if elected. Trump continued to be either willfully secretive (like his plan to defeat ISIL), self-contradictory (like his support for granting citizenship to undocumented immigrants who want to serve in the U.S. military), or downright unbelievable (like his unqualified praise for Putin). Meanwhile Clinton's plans for defeating ISIL and addressing the major challenges of caring for veterans have been published for months in some cases. We didn't hear a single new Clinton claim, even on the email scandal which could definitely use a new retort. We're not sure how the voting public will grade the candidate's answers to last night's Commander-in-Chief test, but we're hoping future debates can offer something new, and preferably clear.


By The Way, What Is Aleppo? And Sirte?

We were momentarily distracted from Trump's foreign policy deficiencies this morning when Libertarian candidate for President Gary Johnson asked earnestly on live TV, “what is Aleppo”? Continue on with the outrage, mainstream media. But in your outrage, how about we talk about what Aleppo actually is? The extremely limited airtime and inch space devoted to coverage of what is happening in Syria (save a sweet, heartbreaking face once a year) means that the majority of the American people have no clue what Aleppo is, and we need to change that sad fact. The American knowledge gap about "what Aleppo is" means that Syrian refugee resettlement is in jeopardy, and the Obama Administration can give a measly 90 minutes to try to achieve a ceasefire in Aleppo. And when it didn't work out in ninety minutes, the American people don't seem to care. We need to be concerned that people who are way less knowledgeable than Gary Johnson don't know about the U.S.’s involvement across the world, like the month long air campaign the U.S. is waging in Libya. The U.S. is nearing 100 airstrikes and we haven't seen it covered by the media. Gary Johnson's campaign is probably over after this morning's astonishing display of ignorance, but let's hope it marks the beginning of American concern for what Aleppo - and other places deemed hell on earth - is. Being opposed to U.S. foreign meandering is no excuse for being ignorant about the world's suffering.


Jeh Johnson's Muslim Problem (No, It's Not Terrorism)

Secretary Jeh Johnson made a bit of history over the weekend by being the first cabinet level secretary to address the Islamic Society of North America's (ISNA) annual conference. A high level address is an important milestone for politically active and socially engaged citizens who happen to be Muslim, a group that doesn’t always receive such serious attention. But it’s not lost on us that the first cabinet member to address ISNA is the Secretary of Homeland Security, someone whose daily job is to talk about security, security concerns, security programs, etc. Designating this duty to Secretary Johnson – out of all the cabinet Secretaries – makes sense given the approach DHS has taken with its new (well, new to us) framework for domestic counterterrorism, called "Countering Violent Extremism" (CVE). We can't criticize Secretary Johnson's speech, it was nice. But the words DHS uses to talk to American Muslims have never been our point of contention, what we need to talk about is the programs they are implementing which wrongfully cast terrorism suspicions on the entire community and which have securitized our government's relationship with American Muslims. But when the Secretary tells the attendees, “I am not here to talk CVE with you,” it is a confusing departure from his normal agenda of traveling across the country to promote CVE and creating fun hashtags like #DHSinDearborn. We get it. We all want to be safe and the world is a dangerous place and DHS does important work that protects all of us from harm. It remains unfortunate that we continue to be told CVE is part of that effort, that CVE is successful, and that American Muslims communities require it. While the words the Secretary offered to the attendees at ISNA may be fine, we can’t abide the ideas and framework CVE is normalizing in our government. And it seems some at ISNA agreed


Congress Gets Back to (Not) Work

Congress is back to D.C. after a 7-week summer break to see what can get done before the election recess, but it's already apparent how much isn't going to be accomplished. With important items on the docket - including emergency funding for Zika, a deal to fund the government for another few months, and a massive defense appropriations bill (NDAA) - it took just two days for the partisan bickering to reach a fever pitch. An internal memo from earlier this year revealed a calculated plan within the Department of Defense to make Congress's job of approving a defense budget even more difficult by "playing hardball" with Congressional Republicans and using a Presidential veto to get what they want. The memo has incensed Republican Speaker of the House, Rep. Paul Ryan (WI-1), who is responsible for crafting the House version of the bill and getting it sent (again) to the Senate. Ryan lashed out at the memo's near self-admission of playing partisan politics on defense spending. And while the lines are being drawn on defense issues, Congress looks to be taking up a slate of election year fodder that might give them something to brag about to their constituents. We have to include the controversial "Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act" in that category. The bill would allow U.S. citizens who are victims of state-sponsored terrorism to sue the state responsible. The bill comes as the nation will commemorate the 15th anniversary of the terrorist attacks on 9/11, and several of the victims' families want to sue Saudi Arabia for the crime. Like the defense bill, President Obama's veto threat is looming in light of the "unintended consequences" of the bill. With much to do in September, Congress looks to be gridlocked internally, externally, and interminably.


Trump's Biggest Bright Spot is in Israel

While the general election campaign trail in the U.S. hasn't been too kind to Donald Trump, his efforts to court votes from American expats in Israel is notably succeeding in finding new audiences, and they are settlers. Trump's new office in Israel is indeed inside of a settlement in the Occupied West Bank, and settlements are illegal under international law (as if you need reminding). We've been tracking the Trump campaign in Israel for a while now because it struck us as an unprecedented and important development in Trump's previously unclear approach to the conflict. Now that approach seems to be clearing up with his incorporation of the settlement movement into his campaign. Trump's Israel infrastructure is reportedly the largest campaign effort in any country in the world outside of the U.S., but it is also a more expansive campaign than what Trump has going in Florida. That's astonishing considering the 300,000 votes he is trying to win in Israel versus the 8 million votes up for grabs in the important swing state, but we're not campaign strategists over here. Perhaps Trump is focusing on Israel to appease and attract the dollars of casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, who Trump met with last week. The country is still waiting to see just how much money Adelson donates to the Trump cause. So far, the $100 million he teased earlier this year hasn't materialized. If it does, we're wondering where it will go.