Posted on May 25, 2017 in Countdown

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From the Middle East to the Middle East

If you were glued to the TV in anticipation of President Trump’s speech on Islam in Saudi Arabia a few days ago, you were probably let down a little, because it turns out the speech wasn’t at all about Islam. Sure, there were a few lines about countries in the Middle East needing to take the lead in combatting terrorism and “Islamicists” (one too many ‘s’ sounds), and to protect everyone, regardless of their faith or “ethnicitity” (one too many ‘t’ sounds). But the bulk of the speech was a geopolitical one, reinforcing US security and economic cooperation with its traditional allies and antagonism towards foes. Up next was Israel, where the president made time to get his hand slapped off by Melania, to make the Israeli ambassador to the US nearly face palm by suggesting Israel was not in the Middle East, and to trigger outrage with a bizarrely upbeat Holocaust memorial note (which many were quick to compare to President Obama’s solemn note). No time, however, was made for anything of substance on the Israeli-Palestinian peace track.

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The Scandal that Won’t Go Away

Russia. Such a small word for such a big country, and an even bigger scandal. President Trump’s gaffes overseas may have been humorous, but the scandal at home is getting more serious. The Justice Department reported that Attorney General Jeff Sessions had failed to disclose his two meetings with the Russian Ambassador last year when he applied for a security clearance, where he is required to list all interactions with representatives of foreign governments. To make things more interesting, then-FBI Director James Comey’s actions in the Hillary Clinton email investigation were said to have been influenced by a Russian intelligence document alleging Justice Department collaboration with the Clinton campaign on that very investigation. It is now reported this Russian document was possibly fraudulent, and was sent to the FBI to “confuse” them. Ok, is anyone not confused at this stage? Probably Russia.

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Cuts, Cuts, and More Cuts

Behind all the exciting scandals and gaffes in the news, there are less exciting, but arguably more impactful, developments we shouldn’t overlook. Trump’s 2018 budget came out on Tuesday, and boy are there changes you’ll want to pay attention to! Medicare and Social Security (except for the disabled) are safe, but there is a proposed $1.7 million cut to social safety programs affecting the poor, including Medicaid. Wait, did we say million with an ‘m’? We meant $1.7 billion. Wait, did we say billion with a ‘b’? We meant $1.7 TRILLION. So now the scientists are worried about cutting research into life-saving medicines, education advocates are worried that students will lose crucial student-loan repayment options, and advocates for people with disabilities are worried that many will struggle to get benefits or find affordable housing. But enough with the worrying, we’ve got to get serious and balance the budget! By the way, you’ve heard about the $469 billion increase in defense spending for the next decade, and the billions for the border wall Mexico isn’t paying for, right? Priorities!

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From Health-Care to Health-Tear

If you’re tired of hearing Republicans and Democrats trying to score points over ObamaCare vs TrumpCare, you can chillax, because the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) is in with the facts: If the House Republican health-care bill becomes law, tens of millions of Americans will lose their health insurance. On the plus side, the bill would reduce the deficit by $119 billion over the next 10 years. Under it, premiums would fall for many, but would be “extremely high” and “continue to increase rapidly” for less healthy people (including those with pre-existing conditions). So, continued polarization is winning over better policy making and no constructive, long-term solutions are in sight.

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Worse Than a Bad Campaign Ad

Here at Countdown, we’ve talked a lot (and will continue to talk) about terrible campaign ads that engage in fear-mongering or distasteful messaging. But you know what a candidate for public office can do that’s worse than a bigoted campaign ad? They can bodyslam you into the ground and punch you in the face. And we’re not talking hypotheticals, this just happened to a political reporter for The Guardian, when Republican candidate for Montana’s congressional seat Greg Gianforte didn’t like his questions, and took matters into his own hands. Literally. Audio of the assault is pretty shocking. Fox News reporters were present and recounted how the attack unfolded, which Gianforte has been charged with assault over. Republican leader Paul Ryan has called on Gianforte to apologize, but stopped short of opposing his candidacy, saying the people of Montana should decide who represents them. People of Montana, it’s your move.