Posted on October 27, 2016 in Countdown

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Election Phones & Phonies

There are just 12 days until the election and both candidates are facing the dreaded "October surprise" on an almost daily basis. Hillary Clinton continues to reckon with embarrassing and questionable emails that were released by a Russian hacker, but thanks to a particularly effective surrogate and the shiny object that is Donald Trump - Clinton might be unstoppable in her march to the White House. It still seems as though Trump is dogged by bad headlines on a daily basis, and the Republican candidate appears to be sticking to a "one-size-fits-all" answer to just about everything that is going wrong. And that answer is to simply insist that everything is phony. Accusers? Liars. Polls? Wrong. Democracy? Rigged. We didn't think that his strategy was a good one, but this morning's newest polls suggest that Trump is inching his way back into the race in a few traditional swing states. While the shock of Utah, Texas, and Arizona being in play for the Democrats gave pundits a lot of fodder, more traditional swing states like Ohio, PennsylvaniaNevada and Florida just this morning went from "lean Democrat" to "toss-up” in some polls. We don't want you to be lulled into staying home on Election Day—your vote and voice matter in this heated election year—no matter who you are supporting for president or for your local state legislature. Join AAI's #YallaVote campaign in turning out the vote, helping voter protection efforts, and highlighting the concerns and mobilization of the Arab American community on social media. If you didn't click on those links, you really should. AAI is delivering the Election Day goods in the form of a brand new 2016 Arab American voter poll, a brand new Yalla Vote Protection Hotline (where we are ready to help you in Arabic & English!), and we're hosting virtual phone banking of Arab American voters in swing states from now until the Election. Yalla, be in touch for ways to get involved!

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Clinton Transition Watch - Middle East Edition

There is no way to hide the fact that a visible majority of Washington, DC notables are planning for a Clinton presidency. And with that, we've been keeping a close eye on some of Hillary Clinton's most favorite thinkers, doers, and diplomats. We covered likely Defense Secretary Michele Flournoy and her policy shop in the past, and we've been keeping an eye on her colleague (and a likely Clinton advisor) Ilan Goldenberg for his sharp analysis of Middle East policy as well. We're also taking a good hard look at recent recommendations from the Brookings Institution regarding the next president's CVE strategy. But this week we paid particular attention to the transition recommendations that came from the Center for American Progress, a close Clinton-allied think tank. The memo covered some major ground, from immediate first term priorities to their aspirational goals for 2025. The recommendations will likely add fuel to the fire that has divided the policy community over Clinton's expected Syria policy. The heated and oftentimes ugly debate between pro-intervention and pro-restraint camps will take note of the fact that the 2nd recommendation from CAP is to "be prepared to use airpower" in Syria. That's yet another sign that Clinton's escalation plans will go forward if elected. We also took note that CAP put the Palestinian-Israeli conflict as a priority for the next President -- but apparently it's not a first term action, rather a 2025 vision that the U.S. should help our partners in the Middle East achieve (?). That's a pretty damning position because there is absolutely no way the two state solution will exist in 2025 if Clinton (or Obama before he exits) doesn't intervene in Israel's self-destructive actions before then. We're hoping that isn't the recommendation that ends up on the top of the pile for Clinton to read if she takes office, and we're also hoping President Obama hasn't given up yet.

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When Political Hacks Take on Cyber Hacks

Cyber security has put in a strong performance during this election year's "defining issue" competition. With the Russian hacking of the DNCWikileaks dumping of the Clinton team's emails, and general concerns about the insecurity of American computer brains - cyber security (or, "the cyber" as the hopelessly uninformed have called it) might be one of the most historically notable events of the historic 2016 campaigns. One thing history might note for future generations is that a massive and frightening internet attack didn't even register in mainstream news. We're referring to Friday's internet outages that plagued the east coast. To make a complicated cyber story short, a whole bunch of electronics connected to the internet (like your router and your coffee maker) were hacked by a few amateurs and turned into millions of robots attacking the internet like an army, a botnet army, that took down an internet provider for many hours. But even without media coverage, cyber security is so incredibly relevant of an issue this year that vulnerable incumbents are using it to campaign for their lives. Take Illinois Senator Mark Kirk, an incumbent who is likely to lose his Illinois Senate seat in a few weeks. Mark Kirk wrote a nice op-ed trying to distance himself from the Republican candidate's charitable approach to Russia's involvement in election hackings. However, we want to politely remind Kirk and those like him who are trying to take the easy way out of cyber issues, when the Senate took on cyber security last year -- a winning 74 Senators  (including Kirk) voted to weaken cyber security. Those votes made Friday's massive attack on the "internet of things" more possible and more difficult to stop. In this election year, Trump has lowered the bar on cyber security so far that now elected officials can gloat about their opposition to foreign interference in our elections. That's not good, or safe, enough for us.

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Policing Conversation is Moving Forward in More Ways Than One

Another hot button election year issue has undoubtedly been policing practices across the country. We hope that the national conversation over the past 2+ years since Mike Brown was killed in Ferguson will continue even after the campaign season ends. And we have good reason to believe that it will proceed because for the most part, the conversation has been moved forward by an incredible alliance of civil rights organizations and federal agencies who are finding ways to improve (incrementally, regretfully) policing practices. Unfortunately, not included in the list of actors moving us forward thus far would be police unions - which is why we note this development with some hope (guarded hope, but hope nonetheless). Terrence Cunningham, who is Police Chief of Wellesley, MA and President of the International Association of Chiefs of Police, apologized on behalf of Police Chiefs for the "actions of the past and the role that our profession has played in society's historical mistreatment of communities of color." The remarks are a promising move for greater self-accountability within police organizations and shifts in police culture - and that is important. Outside pressure is also forcing federal law enforcement practices to change . Late last week, two prominent civil rights groups filed a lawsuit against the FBI for their surveillance of activists in the Movement for Black Lives. The legal case makes it pretty clear that we're not just talking about a few particular cases of unconstitutional surveillance of nonviolent activists, but a historic pattern of using surveillance to intimidate and silence social justice movements. We need more of this type of reckoning with history.  

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Defense Bureaucracy Comes as State Bureaucracy Goes

Earlier this year there was a controversial (although wonky and quiet) battle between the Department of Defense and the Department of State over who has primacy in managing U.S. foreign military assistance to allies and partners. The Department of Defense won the argument and unseated the traditional role of State in overseeing the programs. So now the Defense Department is scrambling in some respects to build the in-house infrastructure to oversee massive, complicated, sensitive, and highly consequential programs that give military gear and training to foreign countries. It's no easy task, as the State Department knows (and is very often criticized for not being perfect at). One thing we have are eyes and ears tuned to is how the Department of Defense will choose to monitor and vet military supplies according to the Leahy Law, which restricts U.S. military funding from going to units, groups, or governments that are guilty of gross violations of human rights. This important law has been a thorny issue for the State Department, who has just 9 "Leahy vetters" to monitor almost $6 billion a year. There is some understandable concern that by shifting such an important task from the diplomatic State Department to the war Defense Department might lead to a more aggressive, less rights-respecting, aid strategy. We share those concerns and will be watching this very, very closely as Congress finalizes their authority this week and as DoD starts taking over control in the coming months. It is a pretty seismic shift in U.S. military aid policy.