Posted on June 09, 2017 in Countdown

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Comey Delivers a Firestorm

Your popcorn may have grown stale if you were waiting on President Trump’s tweets during the Comey hearing (he miraculously managed to restrain himself from tweeting at all), but the fired FBI director’s testimony was so scathing, it was entertaining enough on its own. In stark contrast to intelligence chiefs’ refusal to answer so many questions in the important FISA/Section 702 hearing the day before, Comey answered and answered and answered some more. He  said that Trump had told “lies, plain and simple” about the reasons he fired him in an effort to “defame” him. He also said he wrote detailed notes of his private meetings with Trump, even though he didn’t do it for his meetings with previous presidents, because “the nature” of Trump left him with the impression that he might “lie” about those meetings. Comey confirmed that he felt pressured to offer something to Trump in exchange for keeping his job, and he believes, based on Trump’s comments, that he was ultimately fired over the Russia investigation, noting that Russia’s meddling in the US election was “a big deal”. It took a day for Trump to finally tweet, returning the “lie” accusation and declaring “total and complete vindication.” Musician Mikel Jollet tweeted a photo of both Trump and Comey with the tagline: “One of these two men is lying. I wonder if it's the guy who served 3 presidents from 2 parties or the one who said Obama is from Kenya?” Media response was more predictable, and fell perfectly on partisan lines (oh Washington).

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A Rift Engulfs the Gulf

There have long been tensions between Saudi Arabia and Qatar over a wide range of issues, primarily the contrast in their relations vis-à-vis Iran, views on the Muslim Brotherhood, and over the influential Qatar-based Al Jazeera’s coverage of events in the region. These tensions completely boiled over this week, when Qatar found itself unprecedentedly isolated, having lost diplomatic relations with half a dozen regional allies, had neighbors’ airspace closed to its airlines, and even had its food imports blocked across its only land border with Saudi Arabia, raising the possibility of a food crisis. So far, Qatar is standing defiant, declaring it isn’t prepared to change its foreign policy, and may be turning to Turkey and Iran to alleviate the food crisis. A diplomatic crisis like this in the Gulf is worrisome, but of course the US moved quickly to ease tensions. President Trump took to Twitter to contradict the US ambassador to Qatar’s praise  of the country, by throwing his weight fully behind the Saudi-led isolation of Qatar, only for himself to be contradicted by the Pentagon’s praise of Qatar. 

Wait, what? Oh, “sources” suspect Trump didn’t know US troops were stationed in Qatar. Well, Kuwait is taking the lead in trying to mediate and resolve the crisis, and their efforts just got the backing of US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who is also calling for an easing of the blockade on Qatar. For a second there, it looked like we were about to witness a major strategic reshuffle of alliances in the region, but with the US investing in the easing of tensions, it seems it’s only a matter of time before some compromise restores business as usual.

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“Kill Them All”

In the wake of this week’s ISIS terrorist attack in Manchester, the line between these violent lunatics and innocent Muslim communities was yet again blurred, and this time it was done by a sitting US Congressman.  Republican Clay Higgins of Louisiana responded to the ISIS attack in the UK with a call to arms for “all of Christendom” (yes, "Christendom") to confront “Islamic horror”, specifying that every “radicalized Islamic suspect” (yes “suspect”) should be hunted down and killed. They are “heathen animals”, after all, his Facebook post read. He finished up his post with: “Kill them all. For the sake of all that is good and righteous. Kill them all.” When reached for comment by the Washington Post, Higgins said he was talking about the terrorists, not ordinary American Muslims, who are “very cool and very loving.” Well, certainly not all American Muslims are “very cool” (we know a couple of nerdy ones, actually), but if you’re walking back a dog-whistle to violence in favor of a strange over-generalized compliment, great, but it still doesn’t justify that initial unhinged post. But if there is a silver-lining, it’s that all the top (most-liked) comments on the Facebook post were highly critical of it. Alas, you can probably hold your breath until the next reprehensible statement by an elected official, and at a time when the hate continues to grow.

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Serving the Condemned

Meet Russell Vought, a man who supported the firing of professor Larycia Hawkins from an evangelical Christian college because she, in an expression of solidarity with Muslims, said Muslims and Christians worship the same God (even though her view is supported by many Muslims and Christians, including the Pope). Writing about his alma mater, Vought went on to argue that Muslims aren’t just “condemned,” but have a “deficient theology.” Well, who cares about the private religious beliefs of a person, you correctly ask? Certainly not us (one of our Countdown writers believes Jazz music was brought to earth from hell by demons, and we still let him sit with us at lunch). We don’t even care if Vought thinks Muslims (or Jews, Buddhists, atheists, and whoever else) are going to hell. The issue here is when one publicly rails against an expression of solidarity with another religious community because they are the “condemned”, that’s a clear expression of animus towards the targeted group. Vought has every right to write what he did and we have every right to note that in so doing, he demonstrated a hostility to religious pluralism. So when the Trump Administration nominated Vought to be Deputy Director of the White House Office of Budget and Management, you know the office that controls the money and the policy work of most of the administration,  we shared our concern with senators at his confirmation hearing on Wednesday. When Senator Sanders raised Vought’s words at the hearing, he was attacked for allegedly imposing a “religious test” on the office. But that’s just plain wrong and misses the point entirely! The only relevant question is whether there is public confidence in Vought’s ability to implement policies and allocate resources, to uphold full protection of rights—without prejudice. We don’t think he can and that is why we oppose his nomination. If you’re in doubt, consider a Muslim or Jewish nominee who declared in an op-ed that Christians "have a deficient theology...and stand condemned” and ask yourself if we’d even be having this discussion right now.

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50 Years of Occupation

While the world is busy with more attention-grabbing crises, the Palestinian people hit a painful and sobering milestone:  They’ve been under illegal Israeli military occupation for half a century.  Some 25 years ago, a so-called “peace process” was set to launch with the promise of ending the occupation. Instead, this process was mere cover for Israel to entrench the occupation further, by substantially expanding the illegal settlement enterprise and escalating its violations of Palestinian rights. 50 years is way too long, and this injustice must come to an end! Check out these resources (video and infographics) we’ve put together for this anniversary and share them with your friends, because every day longer this occupation goes on is a further assault on a people who have resiliently endured so much.