Posted on September 22, 2016 in Countdown

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The Election's Dog Days and Debates

We're a short 46 days until the election and the long time going campaign chaos is getting even more dramatic in the lead up to the first debate on Monday. A whopping 73% of voters report they are likely to watch the debate, which would shatter not only debate records, but all records. The projections are not far fetched - this election does seem like a made-for-tv car wreck you can't help but slow down to watch. The Trump-Clinton battle has been almost entirely about character (at the expense of policy), so we can see how the side-by-side comparison of the temperament challenged Trump and the untrusted Clinton could move mountains in the polls. But we really hope that policy is front and center. As much material as candidates have to unleash on the character of their opponent, there's also miles of substantive issues we've yet to see debated in seriousness. We're approaching the debate's national security portion with trepidation, however, because of the bottomless pit of fear mongering that we've come to expect from Trump, especially in the wake of tragedies (like his second call to "profile like they do in Israel"). Now that Trump is on the big, national debate stage with nearly 75% of voters watching, will he moderate his radical—and often downright un-American—proposals? We can only watch and see.


Today's America, Terrified or Resilient?

It was a terror-filled weekend across the country, and it's unfolding into a terror filled week as a result. Bombings in New York and New Jersey ended with a shoot out and the arrest of Ahmad Rahami. A stabbing attack in a Minneapolis shopping mall ended when an off-duty police officer shot and killed Dahir Adan. And the weekend wasn't without distinctly American terror too - just look at the police shooting of an unarmed black man with his hands up in Tulsa, and in Charlotte police shot and killed another black man under disputed circumstances. All of these crimes are unsettling to the American public, and both only added urgency to national policy conversations that have electrified the public for years now. We've noticed many policymakers are becoming dooms day preachers about the constancy of international-ish (in the case of Rahami and Adan) terrorism and what that requires of the us. Many rushed to say that terrorism is a permanent phenomenon and so we must change who we are as a free nation to cope with it. And then there was John Yoo - famed torture-defending lawyer from the Bush administration - who went out of his way to sacrifice American democracy in order to punish criminals. But while we've been alarmed by the many counterterrorism proposals that weaken our democracy, we've yet to see many democracy-strengthening proposals that will help address the litany of social justice, equal rights, education, police brutality, mass incarceration, employment, and poverty realities that continue to result in the wrongful killings of black men across the country. In the face of terror of all kinds, are we going to get worse rather than better?


A Great Syrian Tragedy

Last week's hopeful coverage of the Syrian ceasefire has proven to be pretty foolhardy; it took just seven days for the ceasefire to give way to all out war yet again. The question of who is at fault couldn't be more important, as a reluctant, wary, and careful U.S. may not be willing to continue to back the rebels if they ring the final death knell of the ceasefire. Equally unclear is what the U.S. would actually do if the blame for the resumption of violence is at the doorstep of the Assad regime. But the sequence of events is at best murky, and the outside brokers are the ones who seemed to have upended the lull in violence. On Saturday, Assad troops were struck and killed by U.S.-led coalition strikes - which the U.S. has said was a case of bad intelligence rather than bad intent. And then on Sunday, Russian airstrikes hit a humanitarian convoy and Assad's troops bombed areas around Aleppo. Yesterday at the United Nations Security Council meeting, Secretary John Kerry sounded desperate to find a way forward, not allowing Assad's declaration of death for the ceasefire. Kerry has called for a recommitment to the ceasefire and now, also for no fly zones in northern areas. Kerry said that the truce is "hanging on by a thread." So is the whole country. 


Lady Liberty Stands Alongside Lady Lebanon

In case you missed it, Lebanon is finally getting some much needed attention on the world stage to help the tiny country deal with the influx of over 1.1 million registered Syrian refugees. A new plan came to fruition at one of the many side shows of the United Nation's General Assembly meeting in New York this week. In fact, the Leaders Summit on Refugees had some of the most memorable moments so far - like the letter President Obama read aloud. Ahead of the summit, Lebanon received a special promise that there would be an unveiling of a huge new investment plan to help countries like Lebanon cope with the strain that refugees place on already fragile host communities, and to help give refugees a better life in their new homes, temporary or otherwise. And once it was announced, we have to say it looks promising. The U.S. helped establish two new funding streams that aim to support projects that service host communities and refugee populations in middle income countries. What makes this initiative noteworthy is it's focus on employment and education for refugees, two policies that are controversial and neglected areas of need by countries who want to believe refugees are a temporary phenomenon, and resist long term planning for them. But education and jobs are essential to saving generations of Syrians who are far from their homes, their jobs, and their schools. So far, the U.S. announced a $50 million investment into these plans, which can go far to help Lebanon address the impacts that these long term needs will inevitably have on it's own people. So, we're encouraged and we're hopeful. Something we can't always say about the refugee crises across the world.


Why the Watch List is Warped

We're getting a little fixated on how the "terrorist watch list" has become part of national conversations. Since the fervor around the misguided "No Fly, No Buy" legislation has receded, we're finding ways to keep pushing for reform, including a Congressional briefing tomorrow. And while we're at it, we've been reminded of just why the government's watch listing practices need to be debated and reformed. Typically cloaked in secrecy, there have been several leaks and cases over the past few years that are cause for deep concern. Like when we learned that a single tweet can land you on a watch list. Or when we learned that U.S. citizens need representation by the ACLU in a high profile case to even be given the chance to challenge their presence on a watch list. And just this week we caught wind of a new legal case out of California where an Arab American man alleges that the FBI tried to coerce him into becoming an informant with the promise of taking him off a watch list (which one, nobody knows). The man refused, and was denied a security clearance and therefore a desperately needed job that required the clearance (and which started this whole mess). As you can see, change is needed and you can help by asking your Representative to join the call for the redress process to be reformed. It's one small part of a big, complicated reform process. But hopefully it can help a few people in the meantime, while also keeping all of us safer by ensuring that our list of terrorists only includes terrorists.