Posted on October 20, 2016 in Countdown

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The Debates Are Over, But 2016 Anxiety is Still Running High

We're trying to find a small measure of relief that last night's presidential debate was the last and final public sparring event of the 2016 election season. But since the countdown to Election Day on November 8th stands at only 19 days, we're still anxious about what surprises might be around the corner. Donald Trump's repeated angry claims that the election is being purposely rigged by the Clinton campaign and the corrupt press might be creating more problems - like voter intimidation - than it's shedding light on. With the heated skepticism of the American democratic election system, we find ourselves thinking the unthinkable: Election Day might not even be the end of the election (especially with Trump telegraphing his skepticism about the results if he loses). And more unforetold Election Day drama is most certainly lurking in the typical as well as the a-typical swing states. Poll numbers in democratic strongholds and the normal swing states look so good for Clinton that her campaign is venturing into uncharted territory by trying to make a play on states like Utah, Arizona and Texas. That presents a pretty radically disruptive possibility. There's a lot left to play out on Election Day, and once it is all said and done, we think Americans deserve a mental health break to detox from the anxiety and ugliness that has become a 2016 way of life.

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October's Ghosts, Goblins, and Zombie SRCs

Two weeks after the Department of Justice announced they had stepped in to kill the FBI's problematic "Shared Responsibility Committees" (SRCs), yesterday the DOJ re-announced that SRCs will apparently live to see another day - just under a new name(s). The DOJ said that instead of the FBI leading intervention teams in cities across the country, now the FBI will be supporting intervention teams in cities across the country. If you didn't catch the change, you're not alone. The SRC metamorphosis into a local law enforcement project instead of a federal one was announced in an 18-page White House strategy for Countering Violent Extremism, which in our opinion is just more of the same well-intended but problematic programming based on bad science. Even with the new reveal, there is so much we don’t know about SRCs (like where they are operating, and what metrics they will be evaluated by) that we are struggling to even know what we should be focused on examining. For those of us who are working to protect the Arab American and American Muslim communities from being further stigmatized and unconscionably portrayed to be on the "front lines of terror" (NEWS FLASH: violence and terror are not the domain of one particular ethnic or religious group), the announcement is particularly problematic. As the White House looks to shape the next administration (which they assume will be run by Hillary Clinton), they are setting in place a framework for a massive, intrusive, disproportionate, expensive, rights-infringing, and speech chilling approach to our community.

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U.S. Punishment is Really a Gift for Egypt, and We're All Worse Off

Earlier this year we bemoaned a rumor that President Obama was willing to change the way the U.S. aid package to Egypt by removing human rights funding as a spending necessity (which Egypt was happy to see go). We were relieved when the rumor proved false and our $150 million economic aid package to Egypt remained tied to civil society spending requirements. It's worth noting (and again bemoaning) that the $1.3 billion in military assistance we give to Egypt was not affected by any of this drama. Since Egypt has not agreed to invest U.S. aid into Egyptian NGOs and civic groups, the $150 million hasn't been released to Cairo. Congress recently came up with the controversial idea to reallocate most of this $150 million to other countries that they believe need it, specifically Tunisia. While we support U.S. aid investment in Tunisia, we are deeply concerned about abandoning our commitment to Egypt's besieged civil society under the al-Sisi regime. There's been a long and quiet effort to make U.S. aid to Egypt strictly a military-to-military affair. While our security assistance is desperately needed by Egypt, cutting off economic assistance arguably amounts to turning a blind eye to egregious human rights abuses. The Egyptian streets are already skeptical, often conspiratorial so, about the intents and actions of the U.S. government in their state. Abandoning the people whose work is focused on civil society in one of our key allied nations is a bad move for everyone.

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Ceasefire Worries for Yemen and Aleppo

It's been a promising news cycle for the tragedies transpiring in Aleppo and across Yemen. Because it is necessary to be skeptical of Russian assurances, we were hesitant to believe the news earlier this week that the bombardment of rebel areas in Aleppo had been suspended by Russia and Assad. Well, this morning we're glad to read that a ceasefire has officially begun. Calling it a ceasefire is a bit generous, though. The Syrian government seems to be allowing people out, but no supplies in - setting the stage for what they hope is a final assault on eastern Aleppo vacant of civilians, warning the rebels "drop your weapons, this is your last chance." We are more than a little worried that all the parties—including the regime and the opposition—will take no negotiated solution to Aleppo, but will only pursue a military conclusion. In Yemen, after a third missile reportedly found its way towards a U.S. warship from a Houthi controlled area, we are breathing a sigh of relief that a 72-hour ceasefire between the rebels and the government has been agreed to. We thought things were heating up in Yemen rather than cooling down, but our prediction may turn out to be regretfully true because it's being reported that Iran has been substantially increasing its arm supplies for the rebels. This is a sign of escalation that might bode badly for the prospects of a more permanent ceasefire. We'll be watching.

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Expectations As Troops Move on Mosul

This week was the long awaited launch of the Iraqi military's campaign to retake Mosul. ISIL-held territory needs to be reclaimed and people need to be liberated from their oppressive rule. However, the unresolved issues that analysts raised before the campaign began is now coupled with the expectation that the campaign might take months and that ISIL will use chemical weapons in their defense of the strategic city. There are some early reports (and likely premature) that the campaign to repel ISIL is going faster than expected. But we'll take slow if it means sparing lives, planning for a viable governance structure for Mosul moving forward, and only gingerly and deferentially re-introducing two historically unfriendly parts of the Iraqi people to one another. The Iraqi state is fragile, removing ISIL is just one step in the necessary rebuilding of the Iraqi people, not just their borders.

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Counting the 1-2-3's of Police Practices

This week the Department of Justice made an important move to track data on police use of force across the country starting in January 2017. We strongly believe this data will not only help civil rights advocates more fully understand where and how policing practices can be improved, but it will also serve as an important shield for police officers. It's probably shocking to most Americans that there is hardly any reporting data on when police officers use their weapons in the line of duty. Ever the skeptics, we welcome the effort to fill the data void but we also have some suggestions for how to make this monumental effort actually work. Like, for instance, expanding the reporting requirements to state/local police, because right now the initiative only implicates federal law enforcement agencies (which is about 178,000 officers). And it probably isn't enough to set up a system to track data and hope that officers and police stations use it, they must be incentivized to do so, and punished for not doing so. Let's hope the next administration follows through on this initiative and actually expands and fortifies it.